LAHORE: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Monday refused to send its men’s and women’s cricket teams to Pakistan next month citing “increasing concerns about travelling to the region.” The men were set to make their first trip to Pakistan since 2005, while the women had never before played there. The tour was in serious doubt from the moment New Zealand men abandoned their tour of Pakistan because of a “specific and credible threat.” Rawalpindi was due to host England men’s and women’s Twenty20 double-headers on October 13 and 14 as England’s men prepare for next month’s T20 World Cup. Heather Knight’s women’s team were then due to play one-day internationals on October 17, 19 and 21.
“The ECB convened this weekend to discuss these extra England women’s and men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip,” the ECB said in a statement. “The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in. We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region and believe that going ahead will add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted COVID-19 environments,” the ECB statement added. The ECB uses the same security consultants — ESI Security — as New Zealand Cricket and despite Wasim Khan, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s chief executive, insisting on Sunday that he expected the fixtures to go ahead as scheduled, they were immediately in doubt after New Zealand flew home.
The move is a big blow for Pakistan cricket. Pakistan became a no-go area for international teams after a deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore. PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja said England had failed his nation’s cricket team by pulling out of the tour. “Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment and failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most,” tweeted Ramiz. “Survive we will Inshallah. A wake-up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.” In 2012 and 2015 Pakistan hosted England in the United Arab Emirates which has staged most of their “home” games since the attack. A rapid improvement in security in recent years has led to the return of international cricket, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh touring in the past six years.
Pakistan toured England in both 2020 and 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020 in particular, Pakistan agreed to strict bio-secure conditions in order to play in the UK. The ECB statement added: “There is the added complexity for our men’s T20 squad. We believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021. We understand this decision will be a significant disappointment to the Pakistan Cricket Board, who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country.”
Pakistan, deeply frustrated by the last-minute withdrawal by New Zealand, has denied any security threats. The country now faces the risk of further tour cancellations. England’s men are due to travel to play five ODIs in October 2022 and the ECB reiterated “an ongoing commitment to our main touring plans there for 2022.” There is a clear and interesting difference in England’s stance to that of New Zealand. Whereas New Zealand withdrew because of a specific security threat, the word ‘security’ doesn’t appear in the ECB statement at all. For the Pakistan Cricket Board, this is nothing short of a catastrophe and their future plans to host other countries, such as Australia in 2022, look very uncertain. Cricket Australia has said it is monitoring the situation, gathering information from security experts, before deciding to tour Pakistan in February and March next year. Australia have not toured Pakistan since 1998 over security fears.