THE growing restrictions imposed by New Zealand authorities on Pakistan’s troubled cricket squad continues to raise concerns about the fate of the tour. As many as 10 Covid-19 cases and protocol violations by the visiting squad have prevented the Pakistan team from training in managed isolation in Christchurch. The situation has not only caused deep national embarrassment and hindered Pakistan’s preparations for the challenging series, it has thrown the entire itinerary into disarray. Babar Azam’s men were scheduled to play a four-day game starting Dec 10 against New Zealand ‘A’ upon completing the isolation period, but were compelled to opt for a series of intra-squad matches due to the prevailing circumstances. However, even that permission has now been denied to the Pakistan camp, and as things stand, all Pakistani players and officials are expected to remain in their own rooms until the next training exemption comes into force. The decision is a major setback to the team which is scheduled to begin a three-game Twenty20 International series against New Zealand on Dec 18 and a two-match Test series on Dec 26.

Though all members of the Pakistan squad had tested negative on four occasions prior to the team’s departure from Lahore last month, it appears that the PCB did not ensure strict quarantine conditions for the players and other squad members at home. Besides, sending the 53-member contingent on a commercial flight might have also exposed the men to possible infection on the aircraft. A chartered flight would have been a safer option. Even until a few days before the squad was to depart for New Zealand, a number of players continued to feature in the Quaid Trophy matches. No Covid-19 protocols were imposed. This was in contrast to Pakistan’s tour of England in July-August when the players had to self-isolate at home. The situation has to be tackled prudently to salvage the tour, even if it means altering the schedule, so that there’s no further damage to the reputation of Pakistan cricket.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2020

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