England an ideal 'neutral' host


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The Independent Online

One of sport's fiercest rivalries resumes today as India face Pakistan in the Asia Cup. But off the field, the atmosphere is likely to be more cordial as officials of the two countries' cricket boards meet to discuss a the possibility of a lucrative series in England.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are keen to stage the first series between the two historic foes on neutral territory and England is being seen as the ideal choice given its large south Asian population and the huge interest such an encounter will generate.

On the sidelines of today's match in the Mirpur district of Dhaka, Bangladesh, they will discuss a possible three Test and five-match one day series, plus at least two T20 games in either 2014 or 2015. Pakistan would officially be the "host" nation and the PCB believes that the series would not only help its finances but could also rehabilitate the image of Pakistani cricket following the recent spot fixing scandals.

Any series in England would have to be approved by the International Cricket Council, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the governments of India and Pakistan, hence the early start for discussions between the two countries respective cricket boards.

No major international cricket side has toured Pakistan since gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in March 2009. The last time the country hosted India was in 2004, which earned the PCB around £80 million while the last series between the two sides took place in India in 2007.

Pakistan has been playing its "home" games recently in the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and England, when it faced Australia in 2010. The BCCI believes that the prospect of a series against Pakistan will help it secure a new broadcast deal as it attempts to sell the rights for Indian cricket for the next six years. A tender was issued two weeks ago and despite India's recent poor performances, losing eight away Test matches consecutively to England and Australia, the figures remain staggering.

The BCCI is asking for around £5m for each of India's games for the next six years for all formats of the game. It fell out with previous rights holders Nimbus who became angry that despite paying £312m for the broadcast rights in 2010, no series against Pakistan was organised. The contract was terminated by the BCCI last December.

India versus Pakistan has enormous appeal. The last time they met was in last year's semi-final of the cricket world cup, which attracted a TV audience of one billion. In comparison, the 2010 football World cup final attracted an audience of 700 million.