To say Pakistanis are angry and heartbroken would be an understatement. The nasty one-two punch has left the majority of this nation of cricket lovers in a daze of fury that no amount of venting has been able to cool.
First, NZC called off their tour of Pakistan in midstride on the morning of the first One Day International of the itinerary, citing an unspecified security alert issued by the New Zealand government. Cricket fans across Pakistan were stunned by this hugely disappointing turn of events.
The Kiwis were scheduled to play three ODI and five Twenty20 International (T20I) matches in what would be their first tour of Pakistan since 2003.
Three days later came the second heartbreaking news: The ECB had abandoned the simultaneous Pakistan tours of their men’s and women’s teams citing “concerns about travelling to the region”.
The English men’s squad were to play two T20Is on 13 and 14 October while the women’s side would play two T20Is and three ODIs.
Pakistan remained without international cricket for almost eight years in the wake of the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka national cricket team. The drought finally ended with the West Indies tour of Pakistan in April 2017.
The intervening years were marked with Pakistani security forces hunting down and decimating terrorists in their hideouts to make Pakistan safe; and Pakistani diplomats and cricket officials employing all kinds of lobbying and suasion with cricketing nations to play in Pakistan.
Since 2017, Pakistan has welcomed numerous teams. On each occasion, the authorities have been able to ensure watertight security and the fans have turned out in large numbers (except when prevented by Covid-19-related shutdowns) to make the visitors feel welcome.
Small wonder, then, that the large majority of Pakistanis felt hugely disappointed over an unspecified security threat, disregarding assurances of security from top Pakistani authorities including Prime Minister Imran Khan himself.
The Chief Executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Wasim Khan, held a press conference responding to the New Zealand tour cancellation ahead of England announcement to pull out of their tour.
“We know what the guidance is, we know from a security perspective there’s a clean bill of health. We certainly hope England tour”, said Khan in his virtual presser. “We certainly believe they should be coming and hope they will be coming, based on what the competent authority in Islamabad and the security expert is saying.”
“The same security expert who provided the guidance for the ECB to go to Bangladesh, six weeks after the bomb blast that killed 12 people [in 2016] so there’s a lot of trust put into this security expert who is understood and respected around the world. We certainly hope when the board meets, the ECB will decide to send their team to Pakistan for this short tour.”
That, however, was not to be.
Many in Pakistan think there is more to the affair than meets the eye. Two cabinet ministers held a presser in Islamabad last week, claiming the NZC decision to back out of the tour was prompted by a hoax security threat emanating from India.
“Fake news was generated by India to scuttle the tour,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters. “The threatening email was generated from a secure service Proton mail and Pakistan has requested Interpol for assistance in further probe,” said Chaudhry, flanked by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid.
“The ICC [International Cricket Council] must take notice of these nefarious and malicious acts of Indian nationals, otherwise it will adversely impact the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ for many years to come,” he added.
There was some speculation that the twin rebuffs had something to do with adverse security assessments for Pakistan in the wake of the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, however, took to Twitter to point out that the US, NATO, IMF, and World Bank had all considered Pakistan safe when evacuating their diplomatic and allied staff from Afghanistan.
West Indian superstar Chris Gale won hearts all over Pakistan when he tweeted in the immediate wake of the NZC rebuff: “I’m going to Pakistan tomorrow, who coming with me?” One of the best batters on the West Indies side, the left-handed powerhouse is never afraid to speak his heart and is known for his outspoken views.
“Disappointed waking up to the news of the cancellation of the Pakistan Vs New Zealand series because of security issues” Tweeted Sammy, associated with Pakistan Super League (PSL) team Peshawar Zalmis. “Over the last 6 years playing and visiting Pakistan has been one of the most enjoyable experiences. I’ve always felt safe. This is a massive blow to Pakistan”.
Former cricket great and today’s notable international cricket commentator Ian Chappell was sympathetic to the Pakistani point of view when he said in his column for ESPNcricinfo: “[T]he treatment meted out to Pakistan … appears to be excessively harsh, considering the way they have unselfishly toured other countries during the pandemic.”
Another international cricket commentator Mike Haysman seemed to concur when he said the New Zealand and England cricket boards’ cancellation of the Pakistan tour was “extremely disappointing”.
Noting that Pakistan had kept their England tour on track when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak, he told Pakistan’s GEO News, “ECB had a golden opportunity to pay back Pakistani cricket with a four-day tour which they have unfortunately missed”.
Is currently in Pakistan to commentate for National T20 Cup going on in Rawalpindi, Haysman stressed the NZC should have taken up the security threats with the authorities in Pakistan instead of unilaterally calling off the tour.
“When you play international cricket, you have to provide evidence backing your decisions before cancelling the tour,” said Haysman, adding he has been travelling in and out of Pakistan since 1996 and has “never found any problem regarding security”.
Noting security in Pakistan is a bit more than usual with a reason to conduct international cricket smoothly, Haysman said his presence in Pakistan was evidence enough he perceived no security threats.
There are those in Pakistan who think the cancelled tours should have implications for Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with New Zealand and England.
“The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in”, the ECB statement announcing tour cancellation said.
“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”.
On their part, the English cricketers have said that the English players union was not consulted ahead of the ECB decision to abandon the Pakistan tour.
The TEPP (Team England Player Partnership) strongly denied and told that at no point TEPP told ECB that players won’t be touring Pakistan. ECB was solely behind this decision and this decision could affect the relations between both countries.
The newly PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja was livid as he expressed his anger and disgust when England refused to tour Pakistan. Pakistan tour England not once but twice amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and now when it is England’s turn to repay, they have backed off.
Raja said that action will be taken and the matter will be taken up with the ICC. Now all of us will get to know how fair ICC is with Pakistan.
He also vowed to exact revenge on NZ and England on the playfield, urging his players, “Release your frustration and anger by channelling it towards your performance. Take out your frustration in the coming World Cup by performing well”.
The Cricket West Indies assured the Pakistan Cricket Board that it plans to honour its tour commitment in December this year. CWI CEO Johnny Grave said the governing body of the game in the Caribbean has no intention of not fulfilling the tour obligations.
Meanwhile, West Indies have assured Pakistan their tour of the South Asian cricketing superpower is on track.
“Our intention is to fulfil our tour obligations,” Cricket West Indies CEO Johnny Grave told Trinidad News Day. “We have a very clear process that we go through with independent security experts, as we did in 2018.”
The West Indies, led by Jason Mohammed, visited Pakistan three years ago to play three T20 matches in Karachi. They are now scheduled to tour of Pakistan in December 2021 to play three ODIs and three T20S.
Some Pakistani media reports are keeping the hopes of the England tour alive, citing high-level diplomatic contacts being undertaken by Pakistani authorities to that end. However, whether or not the England tour of Pakistan materializes, the episode will forever be seen as a huge betrayal and a national insult in Pakistan.