After NZ shock, England 'reluctantly' withdraw from Pakistan tour

Published September 20, 2021
ECB says it recognises that the decision will be a "significant disappointment" to the PCB. — AP/File
ECB says it recognises that the decision will be a "significant disappointment" to the PCB. — AP/File

The England Cricket Board announced on Monday that it was withdrawing both its men's and women's teams from their tour of Pakistan scheduled for next month.

"We can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip," the ECB said in a tweet.

The decision comes three days after New Zealand abandoned their tour of Pakistan citing a "security threat", minutes before the first ODI match was scheduled to start at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium — a move that shocked Pakistani fans and officials.

In a statement, the ECB said it had "a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan as part of the Men's Future Tours Programme in 2022".

It said England had 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," it added.

Editorial: After NZ's decision to back out, PCB should harden its stance when it sends teams for tours abroad

The board emphasised that players' and staff's mental and physical well-being remained its 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," it said while referring to Pakistan, adding that going ahead with the tour "will add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted Covid environments".

According to the press release, there was an "added complexity" for England 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," it explained.

"We understand that this decision will be a significant disappointment to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board), who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country," the statement said, noting that Pakistan's support of English and Welsh cricket over the last two summers had been "a huge demonstration of friendship".

"We are sincerely sorry for the impact this will have on cricket in Pakistan and emphasise an ongoing commitment to our main touring plans there for 2022."

'Finding excuses to wriggle out'

PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja was quick to react, saying he was "disappointed" with England for "pulling out of their commitment & failing a member of their Cricket fraternity when it needed it most".

"Survive we will Inshallah," he wrote, terming the development "a wake-up call for Pakistan team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses".

In a video message later, Raja said England's decision was disappointing but also "expected" because members of the "Western bloc unfortunately join hands and try to back each other".

"Unfortunately you can take any decision based on security threat or perception," he said, regretting that while Pakistan "goes out of the way to accommodate" Western teams, the Green Shirts had to tolerate unpleasant treatment abroad.

"They find excuses to wriggle out of here; sometimes [it's] security, sometimes the players get spooked, and sometimes the players are tired," he added, referring to Western teams.

The lesson, Raja said, was that Pakistan had to expand its cricket economy greatly to retain such teams' interest.

Noting the strong cultural ties between Pakistan and England, Raja said he had told the ECB chairman that "you have to think of the emotional angle and your responsibility towards Pakistan Cricket."

He warned that if Pakistan was blocked in this manner within the cricket fraternity, "we will not care about anything in the future either."

Raja also said the PCB had begun the paperwork over New Zealand's withdrawal, saying "I will ensure we receive compensation" for the decision.

The England men's team was scheduled to play two T20Is at the Pindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi on October 13 and 14, while the women's team was slated to play three One-day Internationals on Oct 17, 19 and 21 in Rawalpindi.

While this would be England men's team's first tour to Pakistan in 16 years, the women’s squad, led by Heather Knight, was to visit the country for the first time.

Both series were initially scheduled to be played in Karachi, but the PCB had decided to move the series to Rawalpindi due to operational and logistical reasons.

England last toured Pakistan in 2005. In 2012 and 2015, Pakistan had to host England in the United Arab Emirates.

New Zealand pull out after 'serious' alert

On Friday, the New Zealand team had unilaterally postponed the series with Pakistan despite security assurances by officials. They had cited a "specific, credible threat", but refused to provide details.

The PCB insisted that Pakistan had "foolproof security arrangements for all visiting teams" and had "assured NZC of the same".

It said the New Zealand team had been satisfied with the security arrangements throughout their stay, adding that cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world were "disappointed" by the last-minute withdrawal.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also personally spoke to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and informed her that Pakistan had "one of the best intelligence systems in the world and that no security threat of any kind" existed for the visiting team.

While acknowledging that the decision would be "disappointing ... for everyone", Ardern said she "totally support[ed]" it.

On Sunday, PCB chief executive Wasim Khan revealed that he had been informed that the New Zealand tour was abandoned after the New Zealand government received an alert from the “Five Eyes” intelligence group about a "direct and imminent" threat to its team in Pakistan.

The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Kiwis had arrived in Pakistan on September 11 for the first time in 18 years to play three ODIs and five Twenty20 Internationals.

The ODI series against New Zealand was supposed to be played at the Rawalpindi Stadium, with matches scheduled for Sept 17, 19, and 21, while the Gaddafi Stadium was slated to host five T20s from Sept 25 to Oct 3.

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