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World Cup will go ahead despite doubts over Pakistan: top adviser
INDERJIT Singh Bindra, one of cricket's most influential administrators, is convinced the World Cup in 2011 will go ahead, even if all the matches are played in India.

"We won't jump to that conclusion, but if the situation is bad, India is big enough to stage the competition. The IPL (Indian Premier League) has 59 matches spread over eight franchises, the next World Cup has 49 matches."

Bindra, a former president of the Indian cricket board, also said he was "100 per cent certain" the IPL would go ahead as planned, despite the reservations of some players.

A magical wand will have to be waved by President Obama for Pakistan to be one of the four scheduled hosts of the World Cup. Bangladesh? Maybe the Rifles will have ceased to mutiny. Sri Lanka? The Tamil Tigers, cornered though they may be, still send aircraft to bomb Colombo. And then there is the question of Afghanistan …

In South Africa next month, Afghanistan will be one of 12 countries competing for the last four places in the World Cup. "For a part of the world which has been in the news for other reasons, this is a great story," said the International Cricket Council's global development manager, Matthew Kennedy.

Recruiting players who had learned the game in refugee camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan won divisions five, four and three of the World Cricket League to reach the play-offs. But, if Afghanistan qualifies for the 14-team World Cup of 2011, and the Taliban still prefers it to wield swords, not bats, the security implications will be massive.

"I was reading on the internet the other day about the Taliban and their attitude to cricket," Bindra said in Delhi. "They say that Muslims should use swords, not bats. They say that cricket in Asia is like opium in China in the 19th century — a tool of the imperial powers. It is a very pernicious philosophy."

Bindra believes that Pakistan should not start on the very slippery slope of playing at neutral venues. "That is a booby-trap and they will cease to be a Test-playing country," he said. "How do youngsters watch and learn the game if Pakistan do not play at home? Give Pakistan a chance to get their act together — and they must ensure presidential-style security, not just talk about it. But, ultimately, this is something that cannot be tackled by cricket administrators but by the global powers."

Pakistan may not be given the opportunity of playing anywhere soon. Its tour of Bangladesh has been postponed: the ICC had a fit when it saw the security plan as it featured the Bangladesh Rifles, who have just mutinied. Pakistan's one-day series against Australia in Abu Dhabi next month is still going ahead, according to Cricket Australia, but could be called off on security grounds. For political reasons as well, the Indian Government won't allow India to play Pakistan in bilateral series following the Mumbai attacks.

The England and Wales Cricket Board, even before the events in Lahore, was keen to stage some of Pakistan's matches in England. The chairman, Giles Clarke, had identified Headingley as particularly appropriate. The summer of 2010 might well feature a few one-day internationals between Pakistan and Australia, but Test matches are not going to make money as Pakistan supporters in England have never turned up for them.

Bindra knows the game's finances like no one else. "In Pakistan's television contract, if they play against India they receive an extra amount. If they are not playing against India, they don't make more than a nominal amount. As far as their (abandoned) series against Sri Lanka was concerned, the Pakistan board was only breaking even."

Doubts were expressed last week about the second IPL taking place. But Muthiah Muralidaran, due to play with Andrew Flintoff for Chennai Super Kings, joked that he was "going to wear a bulletproof jacket for future journeys on team buses". All the Sri Lankans signed for the IPL will, at this stage, go to India — Thilan Samaraweera, the most badly injured, is not contracted — because they believe security in India will be far tighter than in Pakistan.

"I am 100 per cent certain the IPL will go ahead," said Bindra. "Each of the venues except one has already got clearance from the Indian Government. I foresee no problem."

The show will go on — in India. Whatever the security situation in the rest of Asia, too much money is involved for it not to. And the more violence there is, the more people need an escape from it.

It is ironic that Bindra was born in Lahore. As a Sikh, he had to flee the violence there at Partition, and later created the stadium in the Indian Punjab, at Mohali, where England sought refuge in December after the Test at Mumbai was cancelled because of another terrorist attack. Not only the long-term brains behind Indian cricket, and a commissioner of the IPL, Bindra is "honorary adviser" to the ICC, a post created specifically for him, and one of his briefs is the game's worldwide development.

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