A missed opportunity

October 31, 2021

A chance to bring in some semblance of normality and relief amid the pandemic was lost. On the impact of the ECB’s postponement of Pakistan vs England T20 cricket matches

A missed opportunity

Today is a sad day. I am writing this in my office on Thursday, October 14. I should have the radio on (very quietly – I work in a library, after all), with a cup of tea and a selection of biscuits on a little plate just to my right. The radio should be reporting the outcome of the toss before the T20 match between Pakistan and England. But, alas, it is not to be. All I can do is look at the cricket schedules on the BBC website and forlornly peruse the words: ‘Match Postponed’.

My disappointment over here in the UK, and that of my fellow cricket fans, is nothing compared to the impact that this postponement will have had in Pakistan. We are all aware of that. We are also aware of the large recent debt that is owed to Pakistan cricket. A debt that is now left unpaid and accumulating significant levels of interest.

Last year in June, I was not able to sit in my office, and it had been a considerable time since I had had any opportunity to listen to or watch cricket. The subsequent visits of teams from the West Indies and Pakistan brightened a very dark summer and lightened gloomy moods. All of us who follow the sport were acutely aware of the tremendous sacrifices made by the visiting players, who went through long periods of quarantine, followed by weeks in isolation as a team, able only to stay in the hotels attached to the grounds in which they were playing. All that time away from families and loved ones at a time when the wellbeing of those left behind was at such great risk will be remembered by those of us who were so grateful for those matches.

Unfortunately, English fans are not in a position to repay the debt incurred last year. Even more unfortunately, that responsibility lies with the ECB. And how richly they have repaid it, by cancelling the two paltry fixtures that were scheduled to take place this month. The reason given: none at all, really.

I know that other tours have been cancelled, as a result of specific concerns, and we can’t know everything that has gone on behind the scenes, but it is hard to imagine that the ECB would not have told us if there was a strong reason for this cancellation, and they have not done so.

In the UK, there has been talk of player fatigue from all the time spent playing and being in quarantine over the past year. This is something that has to be taken very seriously, especially with the effects that isolation and separation from families have on mental health, but it is hard to see how that applies here. The England squad for the last T20 included just two players who had featured in the recent Test series (these are the ones who have spent most of the season in quarantine in one way or another). Indeed, more of the team felt well enough to go to Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai to play in the IPL than had been involved in any England games since July, so they can’t have been suffering too much.

We also have to appreciate that for people like me, who have lived extremely sheltered lives in very safe and secure surroundings, the prospect of playing cricket in a country with a recent history of violence around sporting events, and with the Taliban moving into the ascendancy just next door, there is some cause for nerves and caution.

But the ECB have experts on the ground who review tour safety and must know that measures are in place to secure this tour, otherwise it would not have been scheduled. Surely the risks can be mitigated as much as possible. And we have to also bear in mind the dangers faced by Pakistan’s players when they came to the UK, at the time one of the worst places to visit in terms of the risk of coronavirus. We owe a debt we should be finding ways to repay, not excuses so we can renege on it.

What an important couple of games this could have been. A real signal that things in Pakistan were returning to normality, that the terrible attack on the Sri Lankan team cannot be repeated. That violence, bigotry and intimidation will always fail in the long term. A real, genuine vote of thanks to the PCB and to all of you for your support last year. What an opportunity missed. What a shame.

The great Michael Holding spoke last week on this matter. Speaking after collecting a Cricket Writers’ Club award he was typically outspoken, accusing the ECB of ‘Western arrogance’.

It is clear though, that he did not mean ‘Western’ in any real sense. He represented cricketing nations from as far West as the game is played, after all, and some of the nations that will cower at his words and be glad that they were not directed at them this time around are from further east than Pakistan. The comment that will resonate the most, I think, is that this arrogant decision said to Pakistan “I will treat you how I feel like treating you, it doesn’t matter what you think, I’ll just do what I want”’ (the full report is available on the BBC website, October 5, 2021).

He didn’t want to use particular terms, that is obvious, but his reference to a system where the British get something from Pakistan with nothing in return should sound familiar alarm bells. As should his comment that the ECB would not dare to behave in this way if the games had been scheduled to take place in India. It is hard to disagree with his reasoning.

In the meantime, though, there is nothing that I can do but look askance at my plate of biscuits and cup of tea, now slightly cold. I am not a huge fan of the ‘slap and giggle’ form of cricket that is T20, but I could really do with it today.

The writer of this piece is a fellow of Wolfson College at University of Cambridge and a cricket enthusiast.


England's decision came three days after New Zealand abandoned its tour just minutes before the start of the opening match, citing a security threat. Image courtesy: Reuters

A missed opportunity