KARACHI, Dec 31: Pakistan’s cricket chief said on Monday that Australia’s planned tour starting in March is still on despite the turmoil unleashed by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Dr Nasim Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), said he believed the country would be back to normal within two weeks and that the tour could proceed as planned.

“At this point in time the Australian team’s tour is on as per schedule,” Nasim told AFP.

Reports from Down Under say that several Australian players may withdraw from the tour to Pakistan even if a Cricket Australia (CA) security team gives a positive account after its February pre-tour inspection.

Australia are due to play three Tests, five One-day Internationals, and a Twenty20 match in Pakistan in March-April.

All-rounder Andrew Symonds has voiced his concerns over touring Pakistan and reports said another Australian Test player revealed that security fears are widespread throughout the team.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the player told The Sydney Morning Herald there was a possibility that a number of players would withdraw even if Cricket Australia gives the go-ahead.

But Ashraf said the unrest would likely stabilise.

“We are mindful of the situation in Pakistan but we hope that normalcy will return in two weeks’ time and the tour is still three months away,” Nasim said.

Nasim praised CA’s stance, saying the body had not made any pre-judgements over the tour, which would be Australia’s first to Pakistan in almost 10 years.

“In this regard we appreciate CA’s stance and (the) Australian Cricketers’ Association for being positive as they said they will continue to review the situation closer to the days of the tour,” said Nasim.

The PCB chief ruled out any chance of staging the series at a neutral venue if Australia pull out.

“Playing at a neutral venue is not an option with us, because it’s not only cricket, it’s a matter of the development of the game and the fans’ interest so we are confident that Australia will not deprive our fans.”

Australia refused to tour Pakistan in 2002 over security fears sparked in the aftermath of 9/11. Pakistan were forced to play the series at neutral venues in Colombo and Sharjah.Other international teams have raised security concerns over touring Pakistan. West Indies were the first to refuse a series in the country in early 2002 – a contest later played in Sharjah.

New Zealand had to cut short a revised trip to Pakistan after a bomb blast outside their hotel killed 14 people, including 11 French naval staff, in May 2002.

South Africa, India and England refused to play Tests in Karachi between 2003 and 2005 owing to blasts and security fears in the country’s largest city.

A one-day match against South Africa was also shifted from Karachi after Benazir survived an assassination attempt in a twin blast on Oct 18.

Nasim said once the dates for Pakistan’s general election were finalised, an Australian security delegation would visit Pakistan. The election is due on Jan 8 but officials say it will be delayed.

“We would welcome a CA security delegation once the dates of the elections are decided and we are confident that it will be a normal cricket tour afterwards,” he said.—AFP