LONDON/ISLAMABAD: England cricket chiefs on Monday withdrew their men’s and women’s teams from next month’s white-ball series in Pakistan citing "increasing concerns about travelling to the region".
The historic trip, which would have been the first ever by an England women’s team and the first by their male counterparts since 2005, was in serious doubt from the moment New Zealand pulled out of their own series in Pakistan on Friday over security fears.
Rawalpindi was due to host men’s and women’s Twenty20 double-headers on October 13 and 14 as England’s men prepare for next month’s T20 World Cup. Heather Knight’s women’s team were then due to play One-Day Internationals (ODIs) on October 17, 19 and 21, also in Rawalpindi.
"The ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England women’s and men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip," the ECB said in a statement.
"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. "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."
The move is a bitter blow for Pakistan, which became a no-go area for international teams after the 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore. Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ramiz Raja said England had failed his nation’s cricket team by pulling out of the tour.
"Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment and failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most," tweeted the PCB chairman. "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."
In 2012 and 2015, Pakistan hosted England in the United Arab Emirates which has staged most of their "home" games since the 2009 attack. A rapid improvement in security in recent years has led to the return of international cricket, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh touring in the past six years. But New Zealand last week quit their first tour of Pakistan in 18 years just as the first One-Day International of a planned series of three was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The Black Caps had also been due to play five T20 matches in Lahore ahead of the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The T20 World Cup was moved from India due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced international players to play in bio-secure bubbles for long stretches since the start of the global crisis.
The New Zealand cricket team arrived in Dubai early on Sunday but officials refused to give details of the security threat that forced them to abruptly cancel their tour. New Zealand previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.
Pakistan, deeply frustrated by the last-minute withdrawal by New Zealand, has denied any security threats.
The country now faces the risk of further tour cancellations. Cricket Australia has said it is monitoring the situation, gathering information from security experts, before deciding to tour Pakistan in February and March next year.
Australia have not toured Pakistan since 1998 over security fears. Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Monday commented on the New Zealand Cricket's decision to pull out of Pakistan’s tour at the eleventh hour and said that Pakistan tasked more security personnel to ensure the foreign team's safety than their forces combined.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister raised the question of the supposed threat alert to the New Zealand team and asked: "Where were these five countries that issued the threat alert when the security experts were visiting Pakistan and the team was practising on the same ground?"
He was referring to the five-nation intelligence report on the basis of which the New Zealand government called the tour off. Highlighting the capability of Pakistan's intelligence, Sh Rashid informed the media that Pakistani intelligence agencies are one of the strongest agencies in the world.
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