England have been accused of “failing a member of their cricket fraternity” and “making excuses” after cancelling next month’s tour of Pakistan and citing mental wellbeing as one of the driving factors behind the decision.
The short trip was to be England’s first visit to Pakistan since 2005, featuring two double-header men’s and women’s Twenty20s in Rawalpindi on 14 and 15 October before Heather Knight’s women’s side stayed on for three one-day internationals. But it was plunged into doubt on Friday when New Zealand withdrew their men’s team from the country in response to a “specific” and “credible” security threat that was relayed to their government by intelligence services.
On Monday the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed the widely expected knock-on effect, calling off its tour citing “increasing concerns about travelling to the region” and a belief it would “add further pressure” to players who have operated in bubbles since the start of the pandemic.
Ramiz Raja, the former international batsman who is now chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board, tweeted: “Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment & failing a member of their Cricket fraternity when it needed it most. Survive we will inshallah. A wake up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.”
Though expected, the decision was always likely to be met with dismay and anger in Pakistan, not least since the tour was arranged last November as a show of gratitude towards the PCB after it sent its Test side to the UK during the Covid-affected summer of 2020.
That series, during which the Pakistan players spent two months in the strict biosecure bubbles at Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl, helped the ECB to avoid losses greater than the £16.5m deficit eventually recorded. Pakistan’s men also returned this year, playing six white‑ball matches despite a Covid‑19 outbreak forcing England to pick an entirely new squad.
The ECB thanked its counterpart for its support over the past two years and said the governing body was “sincerely sorry for the impact this will have on cricket in Pakistan”. With this came a promise to fulfil the full men’s tour that is scheduled for 2022 and features both Test and limited-overs cricket.
Explaining the decision to cancel this year’s visit, which was to act as a warm-up for the men’s T20 World Cup, the ECB said: “The mental and physical wellbeing 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.
“There is the added complexity for our men’s T20 squad. We believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the ICC men’s T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021.”
The cancellation comes less than a fortnight after India pulled out of the fifth Test at Old Trafford in response to a Covid-19 outbreak among their support staff. Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, stressed the issue was one of mental health rather than being caused directly by the virus.
While one lost Test could damage the ECB to the tune of £40m unless rescheduled and offset by insurance, Pakistan cricket faces the prospect of more teams declining to tour and a return to the near eight-year exile that resulted from the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore. All eyes will now be on Australia’s men, due to visit Pakistan in February.
There will be a sense of relief among certain members of Eoin Morgan’s men’s squad, with a number shaken by New Zealand’s hasty withdrawal over the weekend. This was triggered by information from the Five Eyes intelligence network that also serves Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA, and came despite the PCB insisting its 4,000-strong security detail was “foolproof”.
It also means those currently playing in the second half of the restarted Indian Premier League – something made possible only by the postponement of England’s tour of Bangladesh – will now be able to play for their franchises during the knockout stages.
While a T20 World Cup campaign that begins on 23 October is set in stone, so too the Ashes series in Australia that follows (despite some player concern over quarantine), the England men’s tour of the Caribbean in early 2022 is set for a minor change to its white-ball leg. Originally scheduled to run from 28 January to 5 February, with the host island still to be announced, the five-match T20 series is likely to move forward by a week because of West Indies now playing in India. The three-match Test series scheduled for March is not expected to be affected.