LONDON: English cricket officials provoked an angry response from Pakistan after withdrawing their men’s and women’s teams from a limited-over trip to the country next month, citing increasing concerns about travelling to the region.

The decision taken by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Monday came three days after New Zealand Cricket abandoned its men’s team’s tour of Pakistan following a government alert that warned of a possible attack outside Rawalpindi Stadium.

The ECB didn’t detail any specific security issues in a statement released after a board meeting over the weekend, instead highlighted the ‘mental and physical wellbeing of our players and support staff’.

The England teams were each scheduled to play two Twenty20 international matches on Oct 13 and 14 in Rawalpindi, with the women’s side due to stay on for a three-match One-day Interna­tional series from Oct 17-21.

Decision follows New Zealand’s sudden abandonment of its tour a few days ago

The historic trip would have been the first ever by an England women’s team and the first by their male counterparts since 2005.

“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 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 environments.”

The ECB added that the men’s team touring under such conditions would not be ideal preparation for the Twenty20 World Cup that begins next month.

“We understand that this decision will be a significant disappointment to the PCB, who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country,” it added.

“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.”

Within minutes, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja reacted by saying he was disappointed with the ECB’s decision but added that the Pakistan team would “survive”.

“Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment and failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most,” Ramiz wrote on Twitter. “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.”

New Zealand abruptly abandoned their tour of Pakistan on Friday citing a security alert, in a massive blow to Pakistan’s hopes of staging regular international cricket.

The tour was due to get underway with the first of three one-dayers in Rawalpindi on Friday but the New Zealand team did not travel to the stadium.

In the wake of the New Zealand team’s withdrawal, Pakistan Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said he had no information about a security threat against the New Zealanders and that Pakistan had given New Zealand guarantees that the players would be safe.

According to him, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan that the country had information the players could come under attack outside of the stadium.

International teams have largely refused to tour Pakistan since an attack by terrorists on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009 that killed six policemen and two civilians.

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.

There are fears that New Zealand’s decision to go home will keep away Australia, who are scheduled to visit in February-March next year, also appear wary.

A Cricket Australia spokesperson said the organisation was monitoring the situation and would “talk with the relevant authorities once more information becomes known”.

Australia have not toured Pakistan since 1998 over security fears.

Mohammad Yaqoob from Lahore adds: Apart from Ramiz’s tweet, the PCB will hold back its official reaction until Tuesday with the England’s tour to Pakistan having been scheduled on the proposal of the ECB.

Pakistan had toured England in 2020 and 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We will have a detailed look at each and every point of the ECB’s decision and most probably we will give our reaction tomorrow,” a PCB spokesman told Dawn on Monday night.

The cancellation of the tours of New Zealand and England is set to result in huge financial losses for the PCB, which helped the ECB achieve its revenue target of 300m pounds when it sent the Pakistan team to England in 2020.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2021

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