MUMBAI: India will host Pakistan’s cricket team for the first time in seven years in the 50-over World Cup in October, the International Cricket Council said Tuesday. The tournament will begin with holders England taking on New Zealand on October 5 at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, which will also host the final. The most-awaited clash between rivals India and Pakistan will be played in the same potentially contentious venue on October 15, after the hosts kick off their campaign against Australia a week earlier.

The schedule was announced after weeks of delay due to Pakistan’s earlier refusal to travel to India, but a compromise was reached when Pakistan agreed to host a hybrid-model Asia Cup in September. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said their team would require clearance from Islamabad to play. “We are liaising with our government for guidance,” PCB Communications Director Sami Ul Hasan said. “This position is consistent to what we had told the ICC a couple of weeks ago when they shared with us the draft schedule and sought our feedback,” he said.

However, Ahmedabad, the home city of India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is of concern to Muslim-majority Pakistan, who had earlier expressed reservations about playing at the 132,000-seat venue. Ahmedabad was the centre of deadly 2002 religious riots in which at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian violence that sent shock waves around the world. In Pakistan’s previous cricket trip to India during the 2016 T20 World Cup, the match was shifted from Dharamsala to Kolkata over security concerns.

The 48-match tournament will be played at 10 venues across 46 days, with the top four from the 10-team round-robin stage going through to the semi-finals, the ICC said in a statement 100 days before the tournament begins. Eight teams have already qualified through the World Cup Super League. The final two spots will be filled at the end of the current qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe. “It’s going to be a great experience playing in the World Cup at home,” Indian skipper Rohit Sharma said. “India won here 12 years ago, and I know fans nationwide can’t wait for us to take the field this time.”


Turbulent history

India and Pakistan are bitter adversaries and only play cricket against each other in international tournaments, usually at neutral venues, due to longstanding political tensions, most recently during the T20 World Cup in Australia last year. Any match between the South Asian neighbors therefore becomes one of the most-watched events on the global sporting calendar and any victory is used to promote nationalism at home.

When they do play, cricket fans around the world are glued to their TV screens in a multi-billion-dollar bonanza for broadcasters. The 2019 50-over World Cup clash between India and Pakistan drew 273 million viewers. India and Pakistan have not met on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012. They have also not played a Test against each other since 2007, instead meeting only in the shorter versions of the game. India and Pakistan share deep cultural and linguistic links but their history has been mired in violence and bloodshed.

The two nuclear-armed nations have fought three wars since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947. India last won the ODI World Cup on home soil in 2011. Since then, Australia and England have won the title in their own backyards in 2015 and 2019 respectively. India will face England on October 29 in Lucknow, while the English will take on Australia on November 4 at Ahmedabad in two other key fixtures. The first semi-final will be on November 15 in Mumbai and the second in Kolkata the next day. There will be reserve days for the semis and the final, and all three will be day-night matches.— AFP