RAMIZ Raja really has had a traumatic first week into his tenure as the 36th chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) with New Zealand and England unilaterally cancelling back-to-back limited-overs series.

The Black Caps arrived and left without honouring their obligation to play a white-ball series on what was supposed to be their first visit to this country after nearly 18 years on the pretext of being endangered by an unforeseen threat, the source of which still remains shrouded in mystery.

And now England have pulled the plug on a brief Pakistan tour which was to serve as a dress rehearsal for the Twenty20 World Cup for the men’s squads of both these nations. Not only that, the English women cricketers were also poised to make a landmark entry into Pakistan, for two T20 games and three ODIs.

While both New Zealand and England have opted to ditch Pakistan now without realising the repercussions of their precipitous attitude and the colossal financial losses to be suffered by the PCB, as a gratified nation we have always remained the best hosts in the entire cricketing fraternity.

Just ask the World XI side (2017), Zimbabwe (2015 and 2020), West Indies (2018), Sri Lanka (2019) and earlier this year, South Africa. Hats off to all of them because they were not reluctant in visiting our shores, not just to play cricket but also relish the tremendous hospitality afforded to them under presidential-level security blanket throughout their stay in Pakistan, and inevitably enjoying the delicious local cuisines on offer.

Let’s not forget that Pakistan were the first ones — along with the West Indies, of course — to bail out both England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and New Zealand Cricket (NZC) from going totally bankrupt last year when the menace of coronavirus (Covid-19) was at its peak. Taking the field during the pandemic has never been easy, and spending day in and day out in the surroundings of bio-secure bubbles; an excruciating challenge that has had thrown up countless examples of sportspeople battling mental torture.

And yet for all the hardships endured by our cricketers while touring England twice and New Zealand in the past year or so, Pakistan — as a country — is suddenly under microscope and viewed as a no-go area by them on flimsy grounds, and that too without any concrete evidence to suggest anything to substantiate their timid mindsets.

If the New Zealanders contemplate with a clear-cut conscience, they will now definitely feel extremely sheepish over the decision their government took and kept the ever-alert Pakistani intelligence personnel groping in the dark by not coming out clean, yet so far, about the actual reason behind abandoning the whole thing, one week into the tour.

And if any sort of affidavit is required to prove again Pakistan being as safe as any place on the planet, at least from cricketing point of view, then pay close attention to the views expressed by New Zealand stand-in captain Tom Latham or their interim head coach Glenn Pocknall.

Both Latham and Pocknall heaped profound gratitude — during their respective official press conferences — for the watertight security preparations put in place throughout their stay in Islamabad and for the three visits to the Pindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi for extensive practice sessions.

As the PCB chief had predicted the step adopted by the ECB was ‘on the cards’, excuses — realistically speaking — are nothing but a pack of lies. Coming from a country which once ruled us, reasoning ‘mental and physical well-being of English players and support staff remains highest priority’ is something really hard to digest by all of Pakistan.

This trip was already on the cards, not just in August but last November when the ECB confirmed their national team will play in Pakistan for the first time in 16 years this October with the National Stadium in Karachi officially announced as the venue for the T20 double-headers — with the women’s fixtures preceding the men’s matches on successive days (Oct 14 and 15, respectively).

At the time of that historic announcement on Nov 18, ECB’s chief executive Tom Harrison said: “This will be the first time since 2005 that and England side has toured Pakistan and as such it represents a significant moment for both nations ….

“We have a strong relationship with the PCB and the ECB is delighted to be able to play our part in ensuring the safe return of international cricket to this [Pakistan] wonderful nation of passionate cricket fans. The two-match series will serve as ideal preparation for the England team leading into the T20 World Cup.”

In sheer contrast to Harrison’s assessment 10 months ago, the ECB has really let down Pakistan in every sense of the word. To start with Harrison reportedly didn’t even call up his Pakistani counterpart Wasim Khan and instead was on a holiday, while leaving David Mahoney — ECB’s chief operating officer — to break the bad news.

Saying “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,” smacks of double standards on part of the ECB hierarchy.

Were the ECB unaware of this factual status when they agreed — and officially made the announcement — late last year to tour Pakistan next month because playing international cricket in the pandemic is not anew?

And if they still felt at this point time that touring Pakistan would leave their male cricketers in a state of mental and physical stress on eve of the World Cup action, then why they have cancelled the women’s series altogether?

Both Ramiz and Wasim were, for obvious reasons, straightforward in vigorously stating that a very dangerous precedent had been set by New Zealand and England. But surely, Pakistan are tough enough to take these setbacks on the chin, and bounce back strongly by successfully hosting West Indies and Australia, who are scheduled to tour between December 2021 and March 2022.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2021

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