You don’t even have to look at the fixtures to know that bitter rivals India and Pakistan will play each other at the Asia Cup, which starts on Wednesday in Multan, Pakistan.
“The entire monetization of the (Asia Cup) broadcast is based on this one match between India and Pakistan,” Asian cricket Council head of commercial and events Prabhakaran Thanraj told me last year.
“The men’s Asia Cup is where almost all the funds come from for the ACC. Monetization will help put funds back into cricket.”
With so much at stake, it’s understandable that Pakistan and India have been scheduled to meet on September 2 in Kandy. Given the intense political differences between the nuclear-armed countries, which has stalled cricket’s most passionate rivalry, the blockbuster contest could not be played in host nation Pakistan.
According to sources, security concerns in Pakistan were too great as India refused to tour ensuring another round of warring between the foes.
There had been talk of Pakistan losing its hosting rights – and they fired back by threatening to boycott the upcoming World Cup in India – with ever reliable neutral terrain of UAE considered as an alternative.
Eventually, common sense prevailed as a compromise was struck with Pakistan to retain hosting duties but nine of the 13 matches will be played in Sri Lanka, including all of India’s games and the final on September 17.
The six-team Asia Cup will be divided into two groups with the top two teams in each going to a Super Four before the final in Colombo. There is a chance India and Pakistan will meet three times in the tournament in what will be an obvious money-spinner every time they meet.
Their games conjure record broadcast ratings and surreal scenes such as when they last played during the unforgettable contest at last year’s T20 World Cup in front of 90,000 fans in Melbourne.
There is such an appetite – not just from Indian and Pakistani fans – but the entire cricket world when these rare matches take place.
Due to the heated political situation, India and Pakistan have not played a bilateral series in a decade. A generation of their players have missed out on playing Test cricket against each other and a resumption is unlikely any time soon.
The scarcity, while such a travesty, does mean the anticipation is magnified every time these cricket-mad countries meet on the field. You can’t blame the ACC for milking it and the benefits are enormous for the Asian region.
Established in 1983, the ACC’s goal is to develop and promote cricket in Asia while fostering better relations with its 25 member nations. A key role is to organize the Asia Cup – its marquee event – which was generally played biennially until 2018.
Under a rebrand, with all-powerful India cricket boss Jay Shah taking charge, the Asia Cup will be held annually interchanging between T20 and ODI formats. This year’s event will be the 50-over format in what is seen as a perfect tune-up ahead of the ODI World Cup.
Next year’s event will revert back to the T20 format in the aftermath of the T20 World Cup in the U.S. and Caribbean.
According to sources, India and Bangladesh are favorites to host the event which would again be played in August/September – as the Asia Cup carves out precious real estate in cricket’s increasingly congested calendar.
With a financial windfall guaranteed, as all eyes focus on India and Pakistan, the Asia Cup has become a major annual event while strengthening the region as cricket’s dominant force.