With the uncertainty regarding security set aside, it is now time to start the countdown to the start of the cricket festivity in the country. This was the dominant sentiment when Syed Ashraful Haq, the chief executive officer of Asian Cricket Council (ACC), announced the fixture of the Asia Cup in an official press meet at a local hotel yesterday to bury all the doubts over hosting the tournament in the country.
The eleven-match extravaganza will kick off with the match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Fatullah Cricket Stadium, where five matches will take place. The remaining round-robin league matches and the final will be held at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.
By releasing the schedule, the ACC yesterday made it clear that all five nations including Pakistan will take part in the competition and this put an end to all the speculation about Pakistan's participation. But the question still lingered about what the course of action would be if Pakistan does eventually withdraw. Haq however pointed to past instances when the tournament went ahead even without the participation of a team like India, so the tournament will take place as per schedule even if any team pulls out at the last moment.
“The Asia Cup takes place even if someone doesn't take part. The Asia Cup will go on if Pakistan do not come. In 1986 India did not come for the Asia Cup in Dhaka and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka took part while in 1991 Pakistan did not go to India but India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka took part. But I am hundred per cent certain that all five nations will play the tournament,” said a confident Haq.
Recalling at least five big occasions in the past when cricket united the nation Haq expressed his optimism that the nation will unite again to revel in international cricket in the coming days. He believes that the people are eagerly waiting to enjoy the home series against Sri Lanka which will be followed by the Asia Cup and the ICC World Twenty20.
Under the circumstances, Haq saw no reason to focus on the security issue with the prevailing situation and informed that the BNP assured him of full support during the coming events. “The country will need support from all the political parties and I hope it will come automatically. I got the official assurance from the authorised spokesman of BNP about their full support during the coming events. I have been here for the last three days and I don't see any problems anywhere,” said Haq in a crowded press briefing. He was unwilling however to disclose the name of the BNP spokesman.
If it is an opportunity for the Tigers, the finalists in the last edition, to showcase their steady progress, then one must also look forward to see whether Afghanistan make their first appearance in the regional event a memorable one.
Haq warned that it would not be a surprise if newcomers Afghanistan conjured some upsets during the Asia Cup.
“Bangladesh were finalists on the last occasion and their development as a cricketing nation is significantly due to the support and encouragement of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the first few Asia Cups. Now we at the Asian Cricket Council are all delighted by the emergence of Afghanistan as a competitive cricketing nation. We have seen from their performances in ODIs against Australia and Pakistan and in the last two World Twenty20s how capable they are. Again, as a development body, the support of the senior nations for the Asia Cup makes the revenues generated by it fund development across all our non-Test playing members, of which Afghanistan is currently the most successful,” he said in his glowing assessment of Afghanistan.
All the matches will be day-night affairs with a 2pm start and Haq said that it was not possible to allocate a reserve day due to time limitations.