It was with humour that Anurag Thakur, the BCCI secretary and BJP MP, explained the rationale behind Dharamshala landing the biggest clash in the ICC T20 World Cup on March 19 — India vs Pakistan.
“Looking at the heat generated by the discussion on whether the series between India and Pakistan will be held or not, I think you need a cool atmosphere and the right atmosphere is in Dharamshala,” he said, with a smile.
Thakur, who also heads the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association that owns the ground, followed up with a Hindi byte. “Itni garam game ke liye, thandi jagah chahiye (A hot game like this needs a cool place),” he said, as big smiles spread across the faces of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan, who were sitting next to Thakur.
But not everyone would have been left smiling by the announcement on Friday of venues for the T20 World Cup to be held in India during March-April 2016.
An India-Pakistan clash is normally held at the biggest venue possible, even during world cups or tri-series overseas, considering the thousands who throng this perpetually “much-awaited” clash. But this time, the Indian cricket board has chosen to go the other way — Dharamshala has a capacity of just 23,000, and is hampered by a paucity of good hotels.
On the other hand, ousted BCCI chief N Srinivasan’s Chennai, which hosted four World Cup games in 2011 featuring India and six other Test-playing nations, has been snubbed by the decision-makers.
The city has been given four women’s games and won’t host a single match from the men’s T20 World Cup. Also, not one Chennai game will be televised.
Once the headquarters of the game, from where cement magnate Srinivasan bossed over world cricket, Chennai has been worst-hit by the winds of change within the BCCI.
With Shashank Manohar taking over the reins of Indian cricket and at the ICC, Srinivasan is currently an outcast and Chennai has been shoved out of the cricket map.
The M A Chidambaram Stadium has problems, with three stands being locked down due to issues with the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, but even with the loss of 12,000 seats, it can still host 24,000 people.
The other issue that hits the eye from this T20 World Cup schedule is how far Indian authorities have bowed to pressure from political parties such as the Shiv Sena.
The two semifinals have been allotted to Mumbai and Delhi, with the Wankhede stadium hosting the game between the teams that finish first in Group 1 and second in Group 2. However, it’s been made clear that in case Pakistan, who are in Group 2, make it to the final four, they will play in Delhi, even if they finish second.
The Shiv Sena has been steadfast that they won’t allow Pakistan to play in Mumbai and even forced the ICC to withdraw Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar from the India-South Africa series.
“Nobody wants to get into a situation which could cause embarrassment to the country. We have so many centres in this country that can host the Pakistan match,” Thakur had said during The Indian Express Idea Exchange on December 5.
Likewise, Chennai has also not hosted any game involving Sri Lanka for a while now — even IPL teams had to pull out their Sri Lankan players from matches in Chennai fearing protests from Tamil rights activists. Unsurprisingly, Chennai won’t see any Sri Lankan games in the Women’s T20 World Cup, as well.
At Dharamshala, meanwhile, if the political climate is conducive, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be in attendance with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. A bevy of political heavyweights from both countries would no doubt be joined by the Dalai Lama, a ubiquitous presence in all games at this picturesque venue. And as it is with most world leaders these days, they will find the enchanting backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayas the perfect setting for a powerful “Ussie”, which is what a crowded selfie is called these days.