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Pragmatism or Betrayal? The West and Pakistan

In About the Game by Bill Ricquier

It is impossible for a genuine cricket follower to feel anything other than sadness and dismay at the sudden cancellation of first New Zealand’s and then England’s scheduled tours of Pakistan, each designed to feature a series of T20 Internationals in preparation for the upcoming World Cup in the UAE.

The two cases were slightly different. The New Zealand squad was already in Pakistan. Indeed the tour was called off almost literally minutes before the scheduled start of the first game. This was as a result of some sort of specific threat the details of which remain unclear. In those circumstances it is difficult not to have some degree of understanding for the New Zealand decision. Some reports have suggested that “threat” of this sort is almost an everyday occurrence in Pakistan and that one should “get over it”. But putting oneself in the position of the New Zealand players it is easy to understand their concerns. There again, adopting the latter position may make it all but impossible to get international cricket up and running in Pakistan again.

England’s position is different, and it is not easy to decide whether it is more or less complicated. Pakistan, it will be recalled, toured England in 2020. Admittedly they also toured New Zealand in 2020-21, but that was not the same thing at all. By shutting itself off from the world New Zealand had had, at that point, a reasonably “good” pandemic The Pakistan Tests were played before quite decent crowds (for Tests in New Zealand) and everything looked sort of normal. 

English cricket, and its governing body, the England & Wales Cricket Board (“ECB”) was on its financial knees in 2020. The pandemic had had a crippling effect. Financial salvation, of a sort, was provided when two of England’s poorest cricketing relations, West Indies and Pakistan, agreed to play three Tests each. Pakistan’s sojourn started with weeks of quarantine in the Travelodge (other brands are available) in Derby. The “bubble” in which the Tests were conducted, in Southampton and Manchester, was at its most stringent and inhumane – for all concerned, in fairness. The cricket was compelling.

The ECB could not have been more grateful. Of course England must tour Pakistan, for the first time since 2005-06. The women’s team must go too, for the first time ever. It is just a matter of finding a slot in the schedule. 

Ah yes, the schedule. On the face of it that is not an issue here. Let’s face it, England were only going for a week, to play three T20Is. The issue here appears to have been security. The ECB apparently used the same security consultants as New Zealand Cricket, so in a way the cancellation is hardly a surprise. That makes the lack of detail about the threat that apparently led to the New Zealand cancellation all the more frustrating. The consultants’ basic report on security must have been positive or the New Zealand players would not have turned up in the first place. The British High Commission in Islamabad has expressed no concerns about security. The English decision looks opportunistic.

It is little short of heart-breaking for Pakistan and the Pakistan Cricket Board’s dedicated chief executive, Wasim Khan. The cricket-mad population, deprived of live sport for so long, have had the prospect of it snatched away at the last moment (we mustn’t forget that other countries, including South Africa and Sri Lanka, have toured recently without incident; as far as the English game is concerned, MCC have been admirably proactive in organizing tours.) For the players too, it is so sad. 

The schedule is not a direct factor but it is lurking in the background. The ECB’s statement that the well-being of players is crucial is fair enough, though trotting it out as an excuse on this occasion seems a little disingenuous. The pandemic and the wretched bubbles have made things much worse. The cancellation of the fifth England – India Test showed the increasing influence of the players; The Ashes is bound to provide another demonstration of this. 

There is so much international cricket. Something will have to give. If the threat – promise? – of a second annual Indian Premier League tournament materializes, that moment may we’ll come. And then we’ll see where the real power lies.

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