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India to play Pakistan at neutral venue

 NEW DELHI, Aug 28 (Agencies): Cricket will once again provide its diplomatic healing touch to India-Pakistan ties with both Governments giving green signal for a bilateral series at a neutral venue.

Ijaz Butt, the president of the Pakistan Cricket Board, visited India last week and a final consent for the series was given in New Delhi. Butt said from Lahore, “I can confirm that a go-ahead has been given for India and Pakistan to resume their cricketing ties. The only issue is now to wait for an appropriate window.”

BCCI officials, however, refused comment. The decision to resume play comes soon after Pakistan’s external affairs minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s recent visit to India, where she discussed the possibility of cricket once again acting as a catalyst for lasting peace. However, in spite of the go-ahead, it is unlikely that the PCB and the BCCI will find a vacant slot in the international calendar this year.

After India’s current one-day series against England, the Twenty20 Champions League and its qualifiers are scheduled in the month of September, followed by West Indies and England arriving here for a one-day series. Soon after, India are scheduled to leave for Australia. “Dates are a concern, at least for this year but if that’s a problem, the series will be played in 2012 as early as possible,” says an official.

Further, India and Pakistan will not play in Abu Dhabi as was the case in 2007 when the two teams faced each other in the Gulf nation for two one-day matches. Instead, this time around, England has been shortlisted as the neutral venue for a full-fledged series and a go-ahead from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is expected soon.

“It’s a Rs 200 crore series. There is no way you can keep India and Pakistan away from playing each other. The market is just too big to ignore that potential,” TOI was told by an official who has been tracking the television response and marketing, related to the series.

He added, “England has specifically been shortlisted because of the diaspora that thrives there. Even in terms of television timings, they’re well suited for subcontinent viewers.”

Considering the money, the series will turn out to be a huge positive for the PCB, which is severely cash strapped because of absolutely no international cricket in Pakistan post the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. TOI has also learnt that the money churned out from the forthcoming India-Pakistan series may benefit PCB more than anybody else.

The only other time India and Pakistan have played at a neutral venue, other than at Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, is Canadian city Toronto.

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