The ICC's annual conference in Kuala Lumpur in June is where India and Pakistan could take significant steps towards the resumption of cricketing ties, with even the possibility of the announcement of a series, according to PCB chief Zaka Ashraf.
Ashraf is in Delhi for a few days after attending the IPL final (to which he was invited by the BCCI) in Chennai, and he told ESPNcricinfo, "Probably the final decision will be [taken] in Kuala Lumpur, where the ICC board of directors meeting will be held. There Mr Srinivasan and I will hold discussions, and maybe we will be able to formulate and announce something about the resumption of ties."
He denied that the two parties had already discussed or suggested a tentative schedule for a bilateral series during a gap in England's winter tour of India, when the England team will return home for a Christmas break. "The BCCI haven't conveyed that to us. What we see on the calendar is that the English team will continue to play matches. But that is now up to the BCCI, the ball is in their court. They have to think which slab is available, where there is a vacuum during which both of us can play. What we can play, what format ... they have to take steps and let us know."
During his stay in Delhi on what was his first visit to India, Ashraf said he had met with the Pakistani high commissioner to India, Salman Bashir, and political leaders of several parties, ruling and opposition, whose names he did not wish to reveal.
India and Pakistan have not played each other in a bilateral series since December 2007. It is India's turn to tour Pakistan, but the country has not hosted an international series between two Full Members at home following the Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in March 2009. Bilateral ties between India and Pakistan have been frozen since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Pakistan, however, travelled to India to play in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup.
On the day that an unofficial lunch meeting took place between Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari in April, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla had told Pakistani channel Geo TV that the participation of Pakistan players in the IPL would depend on bilateral ties between the two nations.
Ashraf said his discussions with BCCI president N Srinivasan had not touched upon the participation of Pakistan players in the IPL much. "I didn't discuss the IPL, because it was more of a commercial thing. I was talking to the BCCI more on the revival of cricketing relations - on bilateral ties, because that is more important. If they feel like inviting Pakistani players [to the IPL], it is up to them. If they want to, I think that will be a good move also."
The participation of the Sialkot Stallions in the Champions League T20 was however confirmed by Ashraf. News of the decision to invite the team from Pakistan to the most lucrative club competition in world cricket was released on Twitter by Sundar Raman, a member of the CLT20 technical committee, but it is yet to be formally announced. Ashraf, who had talked about the resumption of ties with Srinivasan on the side of ICC meetings in Dubai, said he had been asked for his approval for the Sialkot Stallions not once but twice by Srinivasan.
"He called me once from India about 15-20 days ago to discuss the Champions League T20, saying the issue [of Pakistani participation] has come to the board and 'if we decide in favour of Pakistan do you have any objection'. And I said no, of course not, I am always in favour of ties. So after the meeting he called me and said 'I'm going to the press to announce it. Finally I just want to ask, I hope you don't any objections'. I said our board and our people are also for the revival of ties of cricketing relations, Test series, one-day and Twenty20 games." Ashraf said the news of the invitation extended to the Sialkot Stallions had been welcomed "in the press, by the general public and the board. At least the ice is melting. And things are moving in the right direction."
The meeting between the Indian prime minister and the Pakistani president had been important, because it indicated that the Indian government had no objections to the resumption of cricketing ties between the two countries. "What I understand is that, again, the honourable president of Pakistan requested that the honourable prime minister of India do something, so that India-Pakistan cricket could be revived. He [the Indian prime minister] said, 'Yes, I'm for it, the government has no objection and we are going to convey it to the [Indian] board. The board should decide the other questions ... when and where they should play, because those are the nitty-gritty details.' "
Ashraf said that he had kept aside an extra day after the IPL final to have an extended meeting with Srinivasan. However, the extended meetings could not take place because Srinivasan had to be admitted to hospital during the IPL final for observation. "He never used to smile, but he was smiling then [when Ashraf visited him in hospital]," Ashraf joked. "He was very happy that I went. That showed that brotherly relations between the boards are developing."
He came across goodwill in general, he said, on his visit to India. "I found that everybody in India has got good feelings about Pakistan and they all want cricket to resume between these two great cricketing nations. There's great cricket passion in India, like there is in Pakistan. I brought with me, to the people of India and Indian cricket fans, the warmth and feelings of Pakistani cricket fans. This visit is like a friendship message from both the nations to each other."