South Africa considered as Champions Trophy venue

NEW DELHI: The International Cricket Council has put South Africa on standby as a possible Champions Trophy venue, but insists that Pakistan remains its first choice as hosts, an ICC source told Friday.

The year's biggest One-day tournament featuring the top eight Test nations -- Australia, South Africa, England, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies -- is due to be held in Pakistan from September 11-28.

But touring Pakistan has been a security concern for several foreign teams, especially Australia which postponed its March-April visit this year after a series of suicide bomb blasts.

With Sri Lanka, the alternate venue, in the midst of heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels, the ICC has included South Africa as possible hosts.

"South Africa could hold the Champions Trophy in case Pakistan or Sri Lanka can't," the ICC source said.

"But it must be stressed that Pakistan remains our first choice and a lot of work has already been done to ensure the tournament is held there."

The northern venues of Johannesburg, Centurion and Potchefstroom will be the venues if the tournament is moved to South Africa, the source added.

A final decision on the host nation will be taken at the ICC's annual meetings which begin in Dubai on Sunday.

The ICC said earlier this month at the launch ceremony of the biennial event in Lahore that Pakistan will host the tournament -- provided there were no safety and security fears.

"At this point in time we are comfortable with the decision that Pakistan has the ability to host the Champions Trophy, but we will continue to monitor security as it is fluid," ICC official Dave Richardson said at the launch.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting has said he does not yet know if his side will travel to Pakistan and raised the prospect of individual withdrawals even if the title-holders do decide to send a team.

"We don't know if we're going. And if we do go, we don't know if individuals are going to pull out," Ponting was quoted as saying in Australian newspapers.

"It just won't be Australian players. There will be a few other teams who will be thinking long and hard if the tour does go ahead."

Pakistan officials have dismissed security concerns, hoping the ongoing Asia Cup in the country will dispel any doubts of their ability to host the Champions Trophy.

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong are taking part in the Asia Cup, the symbol of one-day supremacy in the region.

Former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja, now a popular television commentator, hoped countries such as Australia, England and New Zealand will remain positive about touring his country.

"The reservations have come about owing to their perception," Raja was quoted as saying in the Indian media.

"I don't blame them because if you're not in Pakistan and you keep hearing and reading about blasts and chaos, then you could be influenced by all that.

"Pakistan needs everybody's support. A positive attitude from the West, so to say, would be of great help. I believe the existing political system will give Pakistan stability.

"Progressively, we're seeing a calmer Pakistan and things should get better," said Raja.

Dhoni wary of unpredictable Bangladesh

Wary of an unpredictable Bangladesh team, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his boys will not make the mistake of taking their opponents lightly, as even a hint of complacency could lead to them being upstaged in Saturday's super-four encounter in the Asia Cup, in Karachi.

India are overwhelming favourites in Saturday's clash, but Bangladesh are known to stun fancied teams once in a while, which has prompted Dhoni to remind his players of the perils of taking the opposition lightly.

"Cricket is a cruel game and you can't afford to relax any day. We are here, like the others, to try to win this tournament, as it is a big one from the Asian point of view," Dhoni said.

He said Thursday night's victory over Pakistan, which gave the Indians two carry-forward points, was just the kind of morale booster needed ahead of the super-four stage.

"We are carrying two points forward with us and that is a very big advantage for any side," he added.

India go into the match still unsure about the fitness of Irfan Pathan , who did not play in the last two matches due to a side strain.

Among the other super-four qualifiers, Pakistan is likely to be without top pacer Umar Gul, who bowled just eight deliveries against India before limping of with a rib cage injury.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag , Gautam Gambhir , Yuvraj Singh , Robin Uthappa, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Piyush Chawla , Manpreet Gony, Ishant Sharma, R P Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar.

Bangladesh: Mohammad Ashraful (C), Mashrafe Mortaza , Abdur Razzak, Alok Kapali, Dolar Mahmud, Farhad Reza, Mahmudullah, Mehrab Hossain jnr, Mosharraf Hossain, Mushfiqur Rahim, Nazimuddin, Raqibul Hasan, Shahadat Hossain, Shahriar Nafees, Tamim Iqbal.