'You can get a full house' - PCB chief open to reviving India-Pakistan Test match rivalry

The two great countries haven't locked horns on a Test match field since Pakistan's historic 2007 trip to India when the hosts won the three-match series 1-0. 

However bleak the chances of India and Pakistan locking horns on a Test match field seem at this stage amidst heavy geo-political tension, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Najam Sethi said his regime's stance on the matter is very clear: Pakistan is very much open to playing India anywhere in the world. 

Sethi opened up on the possibility of the two great neighbours battling it out in the game's traditional format after 16 long years of no bilateral action. India haven't played Pakistan in a Test match since the Bangalore Test of arch-rival's 2007 visit, which seemed to be from a different world altogether right now. 

Over time, political indifferences have taken hold on relationships and led to a sustained drought of bilateral cricket, with the two countries only facing up in multiple team events such as the Asia Cup and the ICC tournaments since 2012. 

But even as the grip of politics threatens to leave an irrevocable dent on India-Pakistan bilateral ties, PCB chairman Sethi remains hopeful that if the two boards sit together and overcome outside interferences, there is a small chance of the two nations playing Test match cricket in England or Australia, if not their respective lands.  

PCB open to India-Pakistan Test on neutral ground 

Speaking to the Australia-based 'Sydney Morning Herald', Sethi said he expects the India-Pakistan rivalry to boost the Test match format, with huge crowds anticipated whenever the two teams face each other at a time when dwindling interest in the red-ball version has led to doubts on its future. 

"Yes, I think bilateral Test matches can be played in Australia, England, South Africa. But I think the best bet would be England, and following that Australia. If you can get a house full in any of the Australian stadiums, fine, that would be great," Sethi said. 

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The remarks of the PCB chief came to light even as India and Pakistan tussle it out for hosting rights of the Asia Cup 2023 and the Champions Trophy 2025. Both the tournaments are scheduled to be played in Pakistan. But with the BCCI publicly upholding the Indian government's policy stance of not sending the Indian team across the border, the PCB has been forced to come up with a 'hybrid model', wherein India can play their games neutrally while Pakistan retains its hosting rights. 

Given the political and logistical hurdles to this front, however, the 'hybrid model' may not be accepted - a scenario for which the PCB has already warned of repercussions, including potentially skipping the looming 2023 World Cup in India. 

"Now if India doesn’t come to Pakistan to play the Asia Cup, my government’s going to say to me, we have the same sort of security concerns in India, so you can’t go to India to play the World Cup," Sethi said. "And then following the World Cup, there’s going to be Champions Trophy. And that Champions Trophy is going to be hosted by Pakistan. And then India will turn around and say, ‘all right, we can’t come and play the Champions Trophy in Pakistan’."

"So, there is no end to this business of not coming to play. In order to protect the Champions Trophy and the World Cup, the ICC needs to negotiate with India ... that you must go to Pakistan and play, or working with us for a hybrid model so that the matches are not disrupted, these tournaments are not disrupted," he added. 

The Indian government's stance upheld by the BCCI and the tussle around Pakistan retaining the hosting rights for the Asia Cup and Champions Trophy is one major reason why the ICC hasn't announced the dates and itinerary for the 2023 World Cup less than five months shy of the tournament.