After Covid, isolation for Pakistan

© Provided by The Indian Express

England’s scheduled tour of Pakistan in mid-October for two T20Is – men and women double-headers – has been cancelled, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced on Monday. This came in the wake of New Zealand’s cancellation of the Pakistan tour last week over a security threat.

Once New Zealand had cancelled their tour on the day of the first ODI at Rawalpindi, England’s withdrawal became a formality, although the ECB had spoken about discussing the matter last weekend. Both countries used the same security agency, ESI Security headed by Reg Dickason.

The ECB released a statement today, confirming the pull-out. “The ECB has a longstanding commitment to touring Pakistan as part of the Men’s Future Tours Programme in 2022. Earlier this year, we agreed to play two additional T20 World Cup warm-up games in Pakistan in October, adding a short women’s tour with double headers alongside the men’s games.

“The ECB Board 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 statement said.

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s reaction to the cancellation so far has been one of disappointment. The newly-elected PCB chair Ramiz Raja had reacted angrily to New Zealand’s withdrawal, posting on Twitter: “NZ will hear us at ICC”. His tweet following the ECB’s decision read: “Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment & failing a member of their Cricket fraternity when it needed it most. 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.”

“We can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip.”

🇵🇰 #PAKvENG 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 20, 2021

But monetary losses aside, there’s an overwhelming premonition in the Pakistan cricket fraternity that back-to-back tour cancellations could have serious adverse effects. “This is a blow, for this might make our next generation less interested in cricket. Watching superstars in the flesh inspires youngsters to take up the sport. Without cricket at home, that percentage might reduce in the time to come. This is a major dent. The young generation is the biggest loser here,” former Pakistan opener Shoaib Mohammad told The Indian Express.

PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja reacts to @ECB_cricket decision to withdraw their sides from next month’s tour of Pakistan pic.twitter.com/hvPqHqdBcj

— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) September 20, 2021

The ECB cited the “mental and physical well-being” of the cricketers and support staff” as a reason for cancellation. “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 environments,” the statement said.

It 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 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021.”

Pakistan went to play an away series in Covid environment when cricket resumed in England last year. The ECB offered its sincere apology to the PCB.

No-go zone

For close to a decade, Pakistan became a no-go zone for international cricket following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus at Lahore in 2009. After international cricket eventually returned to the country, teams started to tour for short series. Home assignments against New Zealand and England, however, were high-profile affairs and Shoaib agreed that the latest development could create a serious question mark over the future home series in Pakistan.

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“The major cricket-playing countries would once again be in two minds whether to go or not. Other countries came here but until we are hosting major countries, there will be a void. When we host, especially England and Australia again, Pakistan cricket will then be fully restored,” he told this paper.

Just hours before the first ODI against Pakistan on September 17, New Zealand’s scheduled first match in the country in 18 years, the Black Caps abandoned the tour, acting on a security threat. And after England’s pull out, a section in Pakistan cricket has started questioning the PCB and its international clout.

“The PCB was absolutely cornered. They couldn’t move a muscle. They weren’t in a position to move a muscle rather. See, the Pakistan security forces are known to be one of the best in the world but New Zealand seemingly thought otherwise, which was a sorry saga for cricket. Actually, there’s an administrative void in the PCB. Earlier, top PCB officials used to be seasoned administrators with connections at the very top. The ICC members knew it. This void cannot be filled overnight by the induction of Ramiz Raja. Now he has to play his part,” Shoaib said.

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