The ICC board has decided to go ahead with staging the Champions Trophy in Pakistan, as originally planned, ending months of speculation over the venue in light of security concerns. has learnt that a majority of the governing body's executive board, which conducted a teleconference on Thursday to decide on the issue, felt any shift would "set a precedent" and be "a tremendous blow to the region, especially ahead of the 2011 World Cup", to be jointly organised by the four Asian boards.
However, while seven of the ICC board's ten Full Members, spearheaded by India, expressed their overwhelming support for Pakistan, it is believed that at least three - England, Australia and New Zealand - have informed the governing body that their players "don't want to" play in Pakistan due to the prevailing security climate there".
The ICC's chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, later told reporters in Colombo that no player opting to pull out would be penalised, nor would their respective boards.
The teleconference lasted a little over two hours after which the ICC said in a press release that "the board considered various security reports and discussed at length the concerns of some members and stakeholders as well as the perceptions of Pakistan that may exist in some quarters".
The news was, predictably, greeted with great relief in Pakistan. "The Champions Trophy will stay in Pakistan and we thank all member countries for their kind support," Naseem Ashraf, the PCB chairman, told reporters in Lahore after the ICC meeting. "Let me assure to you that it was a correct decision by the ICC keeping in mind that there should be unity in cricket. We are committed to providing the kind of security which we have promised to the ICC."
Security will still be the ICC's main concern and, with the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) strongly advocating a shift of venue, the ICC board - which was "deeply worried that a players' pullout would devalue the event"- will set up a task force that will assess and monitor the security situation in the three Pakistani venues - Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
Apart from Ashraf, the task force comprises David Morgan, the ICC president, Sharad Pawar, the ICC vice-president, Lorgat and IS Bindra, the ICC's principal advisor; it also includes representatives of ESPN STAR Sports (ESS), the official broadcaster, the ICC's independent security advisors and FICA.
To start with, this independent committee has 14 days to prepare an assessment and persuade the players otherwise. The terms of reference include ensuring the effective implementation of the recommendations of the ICC's independent security advisors, and liaising with various stakeholders, including embassies within Pakistan and other governments, to address any related concerns.
Besides the fear of setting a precedent ahead of the 2011 World Cup, the other key factor in Pakistan retaining the tournament was the absence of any specific recommendation from the ICC's security consultants on hosting the event in Pakistan.
Then again, "equal concerns" were expressed by some board members during the teleconference on Thursday about the security climate in Sri Lanka, the official alternate venue. Many of the ICC board members also felt that if they moved the tournament, their own national boards could be the ones affected next on the issue of security.
However, the ICC board is believed to be aware that work still needs to be done on the security front and has gone ahead based on the ICC security consultants' report and assurances from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) that "levels of security seen during the Asia Cup will be delivered". The ICC board was made aware that this could mean that "players will be subjected to effective hotel arrest, and not allowed out at all".
In fact, Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, is understood to have informed the board in "very clear terms" that he had tried to persuade his players to play in Pakistan and was told in return that they "won't go". Even South Africa, which backed Pakistan during the teleconference, admitted they were still trying to persuade their players to play in Pakistan.
"This is not something I treat lightly but we can manage it," Lorgat said. "We will use this task team to ensure that we properly communicated with players who have concerns. We are making sure FICA is a part of the process to understand the situation. We have to separate perception from reality. We will do our utmost to assure them that we would not go into an event where safety or security is going to be compromised."