The International Cricket Council has expressed confidence that all qualifying teams, including India, will be willing to take part in the 2025 ICC Champions Trophy in Pakistan – the first major global cricket event that country is set to host since 1996.
Between 2009 and 2019, top-tier international sides largely stayed away from Pakistan, due to a series of terror-related incidents in the 2000s, which culminated in an attack on a team bus carrying the Sri Lankan team 12 years ago.
Even though tours have now resumed, the trio of countries generally considered to be the sport’s ‘Big Three’ – India, England and Australia – have not yet returned following the decade-long hiatus.
Despite these issues, the ICC’s chairman Greg Barclay said yesterday, when asked whether his organisation was confident teams would travel to Pakistan for the eight-team tournament in four years time: “From what we can see, absolutely.
“We wouldn’t have awarded the event if we didn’t think Pakistan was capable of hosting it.
“I’m sure, as with all countries, they will put together appropriate security plans to deliver the event. We’re comfortable and confident it will go ahead.”
While both England and Australia are set to return to Pakistan next year, political relationships between India and Pakistan have been at a low point for decades, and at the moment it is inconceivable that India will tour its neighbour before 2025.
The Champions Trophy, which was allocated to Pakistan for 2025 as the ICC unveiled its 2024-31 tournament hosts last week, would therefore mark the first time since 2008 that an Indian team has played a competitive game in Pakistan.
Barclay’s reassurances come despite Anurag Thakur, India’s sports minister, expressing misgivings about the country’s participation in the event to media last week and refusing to commit to an Indian team being present.
Outside an ICC event held in a neutral country, the two sides have not played a bilateral series since 2013 when they met in the UAE, the nation which has hosted the most ‘home’ Pakistan series in the last 10 years.
Pakistan, on the other hand, played in India in both 2011 and 2016.
Barclay, commenting on the relationship between those two countries, said: “We know it's a challenging issue … We can't control geopolitical forces.
"I just hope cricket can be a force to help improve relations between countries. One of the great things sports can do is to help bring nations together.”
Meanwhile, the ICC unveiled a global growth strategy yesterday, developed in partnership with the various ICC members and “placing women’s cricket firmly at the heart of its long-term ambitions.”
The three key pillars of the strategy are Strengthen, Protect and Grow, with these to be underpinned, the governing body has said, by “digital transmission to support members in connecting directly with fans.”
Under the Strengthen pillar, the ICC says it aims to invest in and grow women’s cricket, as well as to continue to develop its ICC.tv over-the-top platform (which in recent times has taken to live-streaming second-tier competitions), and also to launch a new cricket-based ICC mobile game.
Under Grow, the body will prioritise female participation, as well as “key new markets to drive targeted growth, the first of which will be the US.”
Olympic inclusion is also a feature of this pillar, and the ICC has said this latter feature will be a “central plank of growing cricket globally.”
Finally, the organisation has highlighted “providing an environment that is safe for all participants [and] a continued commitment to leading the way in delivering a corruption free sport”, as a primary target going forward.
Geoff Allardice, the ICC chief executive who was confirmed in that role on a fun-time basis yesterday, after taking over temporarily in July, said: “Our strategy is focused on more players, more fans and more nations enjoying cricket and we believe by working closely with members we can build on the strength of what we already have but also grow the game in new markets.
“Digital transformation will play a crucial role in delivering the success of our strategy as we look to attract and engage more fans and build digital platforms that enable our members to create direct relationships with 300 million fans by 2032.”