ICC Champions Trophy: Edgbaston keen to stage India v Pakistan series

Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq (C) bats during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy cricket match between Pakistan and India at Edgbaston
India and Pakistan have both won one previous ICC Champions Trophy match against each other at Edgbaston
ICC Champions Trophy 2017
Venues: The Oval, Edgbaston, Cardiff. Dates: 1-18 June
Coverage: Highlights every evening on BBC Two, ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra; in-play highlights and text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Edgbaston is "very interested" in becoming a neutral venue for Pakistan and India matches, says Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball.

The Asian neighbours, who have not played a bilateral series since 2013, meet in the ICC Champions Trophy at the ground in Birmingham on Sunday.

The match could have been "sold out six times over" in a city whose population is almost 20% Pakistani or Indian.

"We have the experience of handling it," Snowball told BBC Sport.

"It is not the sort of game you can take anywhere because it is a completely unique match with a completely unique collection of fans and atmosphere.

"If they wanted this game at a neutral venue, I would hope they would consider Edgbaston - we would be very interested in looking at that."

Edgbaston has twice previously hosted the two nations - whose rivalry is described as being "bigger than the Ashes" - both times in the Champions Trophy, with honours even one apiece.

Captain Shahid Afridi of Pakistan congratulates Sachin Tendulkar of India after India defeated Pakistan during the 2011 ICC World Cup second Semi-Final between India and Pakistan at Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium on March 30, 2011 in Mohali, India.
There was a 18-year gap in cricketing relations between the two countries from 1960 to 1978

In recent years, the pair have rarely met outside of international tournaments, despite the fixture attracting estimated television audiences of more than a billion.

They last played in India in 2016 in a World T20 group game, a match that was switched from Dharamsala to Kolkata (Calcutta) due to security concerns.

The neighbours have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 and this week Indian Sports Minister Vijay Goel said the two countries will not be playing bilateral cricket matches because of the ongoing cross-border terrorism by Pakistan.

Pakistan have not hosted any major Test playing nation for an official tour since 2009, when several Sri Lanka players were wounded when militants attacked a bus they were travelling on.

Since then they have played at neutral venues, mostly in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, while bilateral series between the countries have previously been hosted in Canada.

Cricket unites in the Midlands

Matches between the two nations have carried the burden of being viewed as a form of cricket diplomacy, as Prime Ministers of the respective countries have attended the same matches when the peace process between the two has seemed jaded.

On the fields of Birmingham, home of a 124-year-old 'parks cricket league' predominately made up of Asian players, the game has a long history of uniting the community.

"When you are in England you can see teams that are made up of Indian players and Pakistani player who are jointly playing together," Birmingham Cricket League organiser Amjad Aziz told Asian Network.

"Over here in the UK there is no community tensions as such. Yes, occasionally you get the odd incident or two that causes a flash point, but I'd say that the whole south Asian community - Afgani, Pakistani, Indian - get on. You have no choice."

Interest in the match will spill from the stands at Edgbaston and into Birmingham city centre at a fans' park, where a live stream of the match will be broadcast.

More than 8,000 people are expected to watch in Victoria Square, in what is the first fan park experience set up for a international cricket tournament.

India and Pakistan fans ahead of World Cup game in 2011
India and Pakistan met in the 2011 World Cup semi-finals, with tournament host's India going on to win the event

Matches between both sets of fans have also been hosted in the city in the lead up to the game.

Pakistan are returning to Edgbaston nine months after succumbing to England in the third Test of the 2016 series.

Man of the match for that game was England's Moeen Ali, a player of Pakistani heritage who was born and raised in Birmingham.

His father Munir says having the two traditional rivals now going head to head in a city where 13.5% of the population is of Pakistani ethnicity and 6% are Indian will make for a fervent atmosphere, and is one which should be scheduled more regularly in the city.

"There is a lot passion about this game" he said.

"People have taken days off, local games have been reorganised or cancelled because they don't want to play so we have been moving things around.

"This is a game that will always get a lot of support here. It would be very good for the public and for India and Pakistan as well."

A game of Commonwealth Games proportions?

Sunday's match is estimated to bring in more than £5m to Birmingham's economy, with more than £25m projected over five ICC Champions Trophy games - including a semi-final.

Its worth goes beyond that, however, as the event - including its ability to host a match of the magnitude of India v Pakistan - is being used to showcase a city bidding to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

"Cricket is massive for Birmingham and we know it is huge for the Commonwealth, so it is front and centre for us," said Jacqui Kennedy, corporate director or Birmingham City Council.

Kennedy also confirmed the council would be "interested and happy to have the conversation" about making Birmingham a neutral city for future matches between India and Pakistan.

For Birmingham, cricket is big business.

Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan and Rahul Dravid of India argue in front of Inzaman-Ul-Haq during The ICC Champions Trophy
Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar and Rahul Dravid of India face off during a ICC Champions Trophy game at Edgbaston in 2004

Nicola Hewitt, commercial director of West Midlands Growth Company, admits the impact of Sunday's game is unquantifiable as imports and exports are influenced by pictures of the city being aired to the estimated billion people watching abroad.

"The power of cricket is very strong, when you are out talking to Indian businesses and talk about Edgbaston cricket and hosting things like the Champions Trophy it is a common ground and makes people look at us, and along with the cultural, social and economic links, it is another feather in or cap," Hewitt said.

For all the undertones and the importance of the match on both sides of the world, the action of the field and passion in the stands is not about to be overshadowed.

Wasim Khan, the first British Asian to play play county cricket and now Leicestershire chief executive, anticipates plenty of "fire".

"It means a huge amount to both communities," he told BBC's One Show.

"There will be a friendly, but hostile atmosphere."


Asian Network's Ankur Desai

Due to the infrequency of this fixture, the excitement and anticipation has been building since the draw for the competition was made just over a year ago. The two neighbours have a rivalry that can lay claim to being arguably the biggest in global sport - hundreds of millions will tune in for the game at Edgbaston, where players will be cheered on by partisan supporters on both sides.

India have a strong record against Pakistan in ICC competitions - unbeaten in both One Day and T20 World Cup matches. However, the two losses they have suffered have come in the Champions Trophy, so there is possibly an omen there.

India are one of the favourites and defending champions and their fans seemed confident that the squad has all bases covered from strong batsman, world-class spinners and crucially seam bowlers who can exploit English conditions. Pakistan are transitioning somewhat and with the likes of Misbah, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi no longer around - a new breed of youth will be looking to produce more consistent performances in the limited overs arena.

India should have too much depth and plenty more match-winners - but Pakistan are still one of the most naturally gifted and unpredictable outfits in world cricket and on their day will be a handful for any team, and would love to get one over their old rivals.

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