British journalist and broadcaster Peter Oborne has assailed the English Cricket Board (ECB) for calling off their tour of Pakistan next month, terming the decision "a kick in the teeth" of Pakistan to whom English cricket owed a great deal.
England on Monday cancelled their men's and women's teams tour of Pakistan next month citing “mental and physical well-being” of the players.
It followed New Zealand's abrupt abandonment of their tour minutes before the opening fixture in Rawalpindi on Friday following a "security alert" from their government.
Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Oborne said the ECB's decision was not just a blow to Pakistan cricket, but to world cricket. "It doesn't appear to have been made on security grounds," he added.
Noting that the ECB statement issued after its weekend meeting did not mention security either, the journalist questioned why England had "reneged on a promise to Pakistan.
"Given that the England Cricket owes so much to Pakistan who came at the height of the Covid epidemic last summer [...] to bail out English Cricket, they came here again this summer, and what do they get in return from the English Cricket Board? A kick in the teeth," Oborne thundered.
He stressed that while certain events had been taking place in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, the security advice from the British government had been that "it is okay to travel" to Pakistan.
The journalist also lashed out at ECB Chairman Ian Watmore for not having come out in public and justified the board's decision, calling him "Invisible Ian".
Asked why the ECB could have taken the step if there were no security concerns, Oborne said it was because "they (ECB) are pusillanimous, they're afraid of the players, they are affected by the Indians, in particular the IPL (Indian Premier League)."
"It smells to me ... this is player power, and a craven, pusillanimous, cowardly board prepared to kick one of our closest cricketing allies to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude and honour ... in the teeth," he added.
George Dobell, a senior correspondent for ESPNcricinfo, also minced no words when criticising England in a widely shared article titled 'ECB's hypocrisy and double-standards could fast lose them friends.'
He recalled that all matches of the 2017 Champions Trophy had gone ahead in England despite the deadly London Bridge attack.
"At the time, many of us celebrated the defiant spirit that refused to be bowed by threats.
"But if it's important that life goes on in Leicester and London, it's surely important it goes on in Lahore and Larkana, too," the journalist wrote.
He said the ECB's announcement of the cancellation of their tour "sustained ... a culture of double standards which appears to view some nations are far less important than others".
Following New Zealand's decision to abandon their tour, Dobell noted, neither the UK Foreign Office nor the ECB's own security experts had changed their travel advice for Pakistan. "That is to say, they believed that, with the current protocols in place — the same protocols that allowed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to visit Pakistan not so long ago — it was safe to travel," he said, adding that "This is categorically not a case where security advice has compelled the ECB to cancel."
According to the article, Pakistan was understood to have also offered to move the matches to Lahore and play them behind closed doors.
"England could surely have found 14 players who were prepared to tour; plenty more have visited Pakistan to play in the PSL (Pakistan Super League), after all."
Dobell too reminded his readers that Pakistan had "answered England's calls for help in 2020".
"Having been promised they could serve their 10-day quarantine period in The Hyatt (a nice four-star hotel) in Birmingham, they subsequently found themselves in a Travelodge in Derby. They spent about seven weeks in the country in all — a country which, at that time, had no access to vaccines — and, by doing so, ensured English cricket was able to keep the lights on," he wrote.
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 300 million pounds when it sent the Pakistan team to England in 2020.
Highlighting a recent pattern of backing out of commitments, Dobell said the ECB were repeatedly demanding standards of others "which they are nowhere near maintaining themselves".
"It feels, on this occasion, as if England were looking for reasons to pull out."
Mike Atherton, the chief cricket correspondent for The Times newspaper, wrote that "England have failed to repay debt they owe to Pakistan cricket."
"English cricket, the governing body and players, had a chance to do the right thing this week. They had a chance to repay a debt, uphold their honour and side with a cricketing nation that has undergone the kind of challenges others cannot even begin to contemplate. Instead, citing a mealy-mouthed statement, they did the wrong thing," he said.
Meanwhile, former England captain David Gower said he was "sorry" that England had to pull out of the tour.
"The problem is that 'security issues' are so hard to define. I’m sorry that ECB has felt obliged to pull out but I’m happy to come back for PSL next year if required and support [Pakistan cricket]," he tweeted in reply to PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja.
The England men's and women's teams were each scheduled to play two Twenty20 international matches on October 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.
The historic trip would have been the first ever by an England women’s team and the first by their male counterparts since 2005.