At Narendra Modi stadium, India-Pakistan clash Oct 15, World Cup final Nov 19

THE TOURNAMENT opener, India vs Pakistan, England vs Australia, and the final — the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad will host four marquee games of the ODI World Cup from October 5 to November 19.

With 100 days left for kick-off, the International Cricket Council (ICC) on Tuesday announced the schedule of the event that will cover 10 cities, with the semifinals to be held in Mumbai and Kolkata.

The choice of venues reflects the changing power equations within the Indian cricket board. In 2011, when India last hosted the 50-over World Cup, with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar calling the shots in Indian cricket, the final was played at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. However, since BCCI secretary Jay Shah was elected in 2019, Ahmedabad has become the new Indian cricket capital.

Sehwag, Muralitharan with the World Cup trophy. (PTI)

Opposition leaders raised questions over Ahmedabad getting the big games, while their home states missed out. “Disappointed to see that Thiruvananthapuram’s SportsHub, hailed by many as the best cricket stadium in India, is missing from the WorldCup2023 fixture list. Ahmedabad is becoming the new cricket capital of the country, but could a match or two not have been allotted to Kerala,” Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, tweeted.

Punjab Sports Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer said the decision to not allot matches to Mohali was “politically motivated”.

Test centres like Nagpur and Mohali have missed out while Dharamsala and Lucknow have become 50-over World Cup venues for the first time. IPL chairman Arun Dhumal is associated with the Himachal Pradesh unit that has its headquarters in Dharamsala, while BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla is from the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association.

In 2011, Vidarbha Cricket Association’s Shashank Manohar was the BCCI president when Nagpur was chosen as a venue. It is learnt that the Punjab Cricket Association missed out since the BCCI was wary of pro-Khalistan groups using the World Cup to stage protests.

BCCI treasurer and BJP MP Ashish Shelar is from the Mumbai Cricket Association while Guwahati, one of the three venues which will host warm-up games, is the home of BCCI joint secretary Devajit Saikia.

At the event to announce the schedule in Mumbai, Shah said the tournament would show the world that the 50-over format, constantly striving to compete with the more popular T20 version, is still alive and kicking. “I know we are debating about the future of ODIs, but this World Cup in India will end that debate,” he said.

India can expect a tough outing in their first game as they are drawn to play five-time champions Australia in Chennai on October 8. The hosts will be among the favourites, and expected to repeat the feat that M S Dhoni and his men achieved in 2011.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the India-Pakistan match on October 15. “Everybody is looking forward to the India-Pakistan game. Even I am. I am not sure what will happen that day, but the team that handles pressure well will win,” said Virender Sehwag, who was part of Dhoni’s World Cup-winning team.

Despite the Pakistan Cricket Board’s reservations about playing India in Ahmedabad, their itinerary remains unchanged. Besides Ahmedabad, Pakistan will be playing in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata.

A top BCCI official told The Indian Express that if India and Pakistan face each other in the semifinals, the match will be played in Kolkata instead of Mumbai. “There is fear that political parties can disrupt the game, so if the India-Pakistan semifinal happens, it will be played in Kolkata. However, if India is scheduled to play any other team, it will happen in Mumbai,” he said.

In 1991, Shiv Sena workers had dug up the pitch at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium ahead of an India-Pakistan game. After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Shiv Sena has been opposed to Pakistan playing in the city.

Ten teams will be competing in the World Cup. While India, Afghanistan, Australia, England, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa are confirmed participants, two other teams will be selected through the World Cup Qualifiers currently being played in Zimbabwe. Apart from former World champions Sri Lanka and the West Indies, the qualifiers also feature Nepal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Oman, Scotland, the UAE, the US and Zimbabwe.

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