Sri Lanka is likely to host the upcoming Asia Cup with the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) set to move the tournament from Pakistan. The decision to shift the event from the original host country was always on the cards from the moment BCCI secretary Jay Shah said that the Indian team would not travel across the border.
A final decision on the venue for the tournament is expected by the end of this month with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan backing the move to host the event in the island nation. Pakistan’s participation in the tournament is unclear as of now with reports indicating that it might boycott the event.
However, that proposal has received no takers with the tournament broadcaster also expressing concerns over it. Moreover, with September being peak summer in the United Arab Emirates, the other boards had reservations about playing in the Gulf region, a month before the 50-over World Cup. During a recent informal meeting of the ACC members, it is understood that even Oman offered to host the tournament, but keeping the conditions in mind, Sri Lanka has been considered an ideal destination.
While Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) continues to show interest in keeping the tournament at home, with BCCI finding support from other member nations of the ACC, the decision seems a formality at the moment. After the BCCI refused to travel to Pakistan for the tournament citing lack of clearance from the government, the PCB had proposed a hybrid model to host the Asia Cup where India’s matches alone would be hosted in Dubai.
While Dubai hosted the 2018 edition of the Asia Cup in September, the conditions were extremely challenging for the players. It was the tournament where Hardik Pandya broke down with a back injury and with the World Cup set to begin in October first week, and teams keen to use the Asia Cup as a preparation of sorts, the UAE has been ruled out altogether. In the past, the BCCI hosted the IPL in September (2020), but even those matches – held in the second half of the summer – proved difficult for players to manage.
Pak participation a question mark
With teams not willing to risk players in extreme heat, and Sri Lanka Cricket expressing interest in hosting the tournament, the ACC is set to arrive at a final decision in the coming weeks. In case Sri Lanka gets to stage the event, Dambulla and Pallekele could be the venues as Colombo usually witnesses the monsoon season in September.
In the big picture, it remains to be seen what effect it has on the upcoming World Cup. Reports coming out of Pakistan indicated that in case the Asia Cup is moved from the country, the PCB may not participate in the event. If they end up skipping that tournament, it will put a question mark on their participation in the World Cup too, which is set to be hosted by India in October-November.
While Sri Lanka ended up as winners of the Asia Cup held in 2022, it was played in the T20 format as it preceded the T20 World Cup in Australia. The tournament switches between 20 and 50-over formats depending on the ICC event to follow. This time it will be played in a 50-over format. When the tournament was last held in the 50-over format, India emerged as champions, beating Bangladesh in the final in Dubai.
If Pakistan confirms its participation, the Asia Cup would be a six-team event. Apart from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Nepal have qualified for the tournament by winning the ACC’s Premier Cup.