New Delhi: With Australia increasingly likely to cancel its Test tour of Pakistan in October due to security concerns, the Gulf emirate of Sharjah on Monday stepped in to fill the void.
"We would be ready to host the Tests series in Sharjah come October," said Abdulrehman Bukhatir, whose Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) is the leading organiser of One-day cricket in the world. Doubts over Australia undertaking its tour of Pakistan arose following a suicide bombing in Karachi earlier this month which killed 14 people and forced New Zealand to immediately abandon the remainder of its cricket tour. Senior Australian players like Test captain Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Mark Waugh have expressed concern about the tour, but the Australian Cricket Board said it will monitor the situation before arriving at a decision. Bukhatir said it would be sad if Australia does not tour Pakistan, but was willing to step in to offer Sharjah as a neutral venue if needed. "We have the infrastructure and if we are asked, we will make ourselves available," Bukhatir said. "The CBFS has always been willing to take the initiative if it helps the game. Sharjah has already been blooded with the West Indian and Pakistan matches so it has the necessary pedigree." Sharjah hosted two Tests between the West Indies and Pakistan earlier this year after that tour too fell through because of security fears. The International Cricket Council (ICC) is expected to decide the fate of the Australia-Pakistan series at its annual meeting in London next month. Trouble-free Sharjah appears to be a one-stop solution to cricket's woes as the ICC attempts to salvage its world Test championships. Already, the ambitious 10-year cycle of home and away Tests has been ruined by India's refusal to play in Pakistan and the cancellation of Australia's tour of Zimbabwe last month. ICC spokesman Mark Harrison said it was up to the Pakistan and Australian Boards to shift the series to Sharjah. "From our point of view it would be better to play the series at a neutral venue than not to be able to play it all. But obviously the ideal situation is for all countries to be able to play matches domestically," Harrison said. Shunned by India and even Australia in the wake of the match-fixing scandal that dogged the sport in recent years, Sharjah has once again come into focus as a first- rate cricket venue. "There is no question of vindication, we were always respectable," Bukhatir said. "Some interested parties may have whipped up controversy but like I say, to us cricket is paramount and despite the allegations made against us we displayed our commitment to the game and soldiered on. "I believe we showed our intent and our transparency by our actions and that is all that counts. We didn't deserve to be ostracised. Sure, India gave us a bad press but every government has a right to its own policies and all the CBFS did was defend itself and set the record straight. "The venue should never be made into a political beanbag. We are confident that one day India will be back, there is no reason why it shouldn't," Bukhatir said. The CBFS has recently built a $ 25-million cricket facility in the Morrocon city of Tangier, which will host a tri-series between Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa in August. "We expect Morocco will also be a success and it shouldn't be long before we get the right to Test status there," Bukhatir said.
Australia's top cricketers against Pak tour
Traumatised Kiwis return, horror fresh in mind