After days of speculation, the India-Pakistan World Twenty20 group match was shifted out of Dharamsala on Wednesday and allotted to Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, according to sources.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the decision at a media conference, after the Himachal Pradesh venue lost the battle to retain the high-profile, and commercially lucrative, contest scheduled on March 19.
ICC CEO Dave Richardson and tournament director MV Sridhar, in a joint media conference, made the announcement after Pakistan had asked the world governing body to shift the match either to Kolkata or Mohali due to opposition against the team playing at Dharamsala.
“The decision to relocate the match has been made for security reasons. The concerns initially arose following alleged public comments recently reported by the Chief Minister of Hamachal Pradesh, warning of demonstration and attempts to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the match,” said Richardson.
“The decision has been taken following consultation with the BCCI, the relevant state associations, the ICC and BCCI security consultant and other relevant authorities.
“Our concerns relate both to uncertainty as to the level of those threats as well as the level of commitment to implement any security plan developed to mitigate such treats.
“The decision was not taken lightly. The ICC and the BCCI understand the disappointment that is likely to be felt by many over the decision to move the match. But the safety and security of the event is of paramount importance to the ICC and we have taken into consideration the concerns shared with us by our security advisors as well as Pakistan Cricket Board.
“Finally, I would like to confirm that the ICC has been assured by all relevant state authorities that all adequate security measure are in place and will be implemented to ensure that the event is staged in a safe and secure environment for all stakeholders.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board approached the ICC on Tuesday after the country’s two-member security team, which inspected the Dharamsala stadium on Monday, submitted its report. Although security didn’t seem a massive issue, the Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh, has said the state police will not use any force against ex-servicemen and families of security officials slain in attacks by militants from across the border.
With many of the slain armymen hailing from Kangra district, where the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) stadium is located, and the state government’s stand on security, the issue has also snowballed into a political stand-off as the BCCI secretary, Anurag Thakur, who heads HPCA, is a senior BJP leader.
The union home ministry held meetings with intelligence and cricket board officials on Tuesday and Wednesday in a bid to find a solution. With Tuesday’s meeting being inconclusive, and a solution not in sight, Pakistan delayed the departure of both its teams on Wednesday.
Pakistan play their first warm-up tie against a Bengal eleven in Kolkata, where they begin their campaign by facing a qualifier in the Super 10 group 2 stage.
The Cricket Association of Bengal had expressed keenness to stage the game if it was shifted, arguing that both Bengaluru and Mohali — the other alternative venues – have already been allotted an India game apiece.
Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh said on Wednesday: “We have not refused providing security to the match but we won’t lathi-charge or use batons on the protesters as they have the right to protest.”
Thakur criticised the state government, saying its stand sent a wrong message. “Pakistan and ICC will do their own assessment. I can only say that a wrong signal has been sent to the world by the Himachal CM. His statements nine days before a world event like this could have been avoided. The first match will be played in Dharamsala today (qualifier between Bangladesh versus Netherlands) and the CM saying the venue is not safe, it dents the image of the state and country.”