x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ashraf's first goal: Renew ties with neighbour India

The glacial pace of negotiations between Pakistan and India over resuming cricket ties has taken a significant step forward with the announcement of a forthcoming visit to India by Zaka Ashraf, the Pakistan cricket chief.

Zaka Ashraf, right, Pakistan's new cricket board chief, with ICC president Sharad Pawar, centre, and  ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat.
Zaka Ashraf, right, Pakistan's new cricket board chief, with ICC president Sharad Pawar, centre, and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat.

The glacial pace of negotiations between Pakistan and India over resuming cricket ties has taken a significant step forward with the announcement of a forthcoming visit to India by Zaka Ashraf, the Pakistan cricket chief.

Ashraf took over as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) last month and has made the resumption of bilateral ties with India - on hold since November 2008 - one of his priorities.

"I have high hopes of reviving ties with India," he said during the third ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Dubai. "I have received a positive reply from India today and hope to tour them next month."

India cut off ties with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks in late 2008, which they blamed on Pakistan-based militants. A recent political thaw between the two countries - including improved economic ties - and the replacement of the former PCB chairman Ijaz Butt has added new urgency to matters.

Ashraf hopes to meet Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief N Srinivasan in Chennai during the first week of December.

"I have high hopes of a positive meeting and when we can have sporting events like kabbadi and blind cricket with India, why not top-level cricket, which is already regarded as the most-sought-after series in the game," Ashraf said.

Though the PCB has made repeated efforts to break the impasse, the BCCI's response has been ambiguous. As per international cricket's Future Tours Programme, the two are scheduled to play a full series in March next year but a hectic schedule for both means the prospect remains unlikely - for now, at least.

Until the last series between the two - when Pakistan toured India in 2007-08 - matches had become regular for a brief period; that series was the fourth since 2003-04. Additionally, they played a bilateral ODI series in Abu Dhabi in 2006 and India toured Pakistan for the Asia Cup in 2008.

Ashraf also met MK Lokesh, the India ambassador to the UAE, during the match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

"India playing Pakistan is the highlight of international cricket, and in the recent positive atmosphere between the two countries it is conducive to play cricket, and I will convey this to New Delhi," said Lokesh.

"Cricket is in the blood of people in both the countries and it can be used as soft diplomacy as it has in the past and relationship has improved in the past as well through cricket."

Jameel Khan, Pakistan's ambassador to the UAE, also welcomed the developments.

"People from both India and Pakistan want to see the teams play, and if the venue is UAE we are more than keen to host the matches," said Khan.

"It is the most followed series in the world and people should not be deprived of it."

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae