Rohit Sharma says his India side will not be distracted from the task at hand by speculation Pakistan could boycott the 2023 World Cup in their homeland.
The two Asian giants are due to meet again in front of nearly 100,000 spectators at the MCG in their opening T20 World Cup fixture on Sunday.
It will be the fourth time they have played each other in a year, having twice met in the Asia Cup in Dubai last month, and at the same venue last October in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
Those tournaments were played in the UAE for varying reasons. The Emirates stepped in this year after Sri Lanka were unable to stage the Asia Cup due to the economic and political crisis in the country.
Last year, the UAE and Oman staged the T20 World Cup because of the Covid situation in India.
Next year, Pakistan are set to host the Asia Cup, as a pre-cursor to the 50-over World Cup across the border in India.
This week, though, doubt was cast over the participation of both countries in the respective tournaments.
First, Jay Shah, who is both the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the chairman of the Asian Cricket Council, said the Asia Cup would not take place in Pakistan.
“A neutral venue for Asia Cup is not unprecedented and we have decided that we will not travel to Pakistan,” Shah was quoted as saying.
“It is the government which decides over the permission of our team visiting Pakistan so we won’t comment on that. But for the 2023 Asia Cup, it is decided that the tournament will be held at a neutral venue.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board released a statement on Wednesday expressing anger at Shah’s words.
“The PCB has noted with surprise and disappointment [the comments] with regards to shifting of next year’s Asia Cup to a neutral venue,” the statement read.
“The comments were made without any discussion or consultation with the Board of the Asian Cricket Council or the Pakistan Cricket Board and without any thoughts towards their long-term consequences and implications.
“After having presided over the ACC meeting during which Pakistan was awarded the Asia Cup with overwhelming support from the ACC Board Members, Mr Shah’s statement of shifting of the ACC Asia Cup has clearly been made unilaterally.”
The PCB said Shah’s statement had “the potential to split the Asian and international cricketing communities,” and could “impact Pakistan’s visit to India” for the 2023 World Cup.
Despite the issue clouding the build-up to their meeting in Australia, Rohit said his side remain fully focused.
“Let’s focus on this World Cup because this is important for us,” Rohit, the India captain, said. “We’re not worried about what is going to happen later. There’s no point in thinking about it.
“The BCCI will make the decisions on that. We are focused on how we need to be very well prepared for tomorrow’s game.”
Much of the focus ahead of the fixture has been on the weather. The MCG, the biggest cricket ground in the world outside India, is sold out, but the spectators could be deprived a full fixture because of rain.
Victoria, the state of which Melbourne is the biggest city, has experienced severe and widespread floods over the past week.
The forecast for Sunday had improved, though, with the prospect of rain around 20 per cent at the time the match is scheduled for.
“I’ve been hearing about Melbourne weather for a while now, and it keeps changing,” Rohit said. “You don’t really know what is going to happen tomorrow. The things that are in our control, we’ll try and control that.
“We need to come here thinking that it’s a 40-over game. We will be ready for that. If the situation demands that it’s a shorter game, we will be ready for that, as well. A lot of the guys have played such kinds of games before.
“They know how to manage themselves in a situation like that where you are getting ready for a 40-over game and then suddenly it’s a 20-over game for both sides, 10 overs each or five overs each.
“Luckily, we played one game in India against Australia which was an eight-over game. I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference, but we just certainly need to come here very well prepared.”
Updated: October 22, 2022, 6:54 AM