England’s men’s and women’s team withdrawn from Pakistan white-ball tour

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England have withdrawn their men’s and women’s teams from series in Pakistan that were due to take place in October.

The men were set to make their first trip to Pakistan since 2005, while the women had never before played there.

On Friday, New Zealand’s men abandoned their tour of Pakistan because of a “specific and credible threat”.

An England and Wales Cricket Board statement said: “We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region.”

It continued: “We 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.”

England’s men were using the Pakistan trip as part of their build-up for the T20 World Cup with fixtures on 13 and 14 October in Rawalpindi that were also double-headers with the women. Heather Knight’s team were then due to play one-day internationals on 17, 19 and 21 October.

The ECB statement added: “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 T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021. “We understand this decision will be a significant disappointment to the Pakistan Cricket Board, who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country.”

No international cricket was played in Pakistan for six years following an attack on the Sri Lanka team by gunmen in 2009, with Pakistan holding the majority of their home matches in the United Arab Emirates.

Touring teams began to return in 2015 and Pakistan hosted their first home men’s Test for 12 years when Sri Lanka travelled in 2019.

England players have taken part in Pakistan Super League games in Pakistan and the South Africa men’s team toured earlier this year.

The only non-Asian women’s team Pakistan have ever hosted are the West Indies and the Netherlands. Their last home fixtures were against Bangladesh in the latter part of 2019.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja told BBC World Service: “It’s absurd. We have gone out of our way to accommodate international sides.

“I’m extremely disappointed and so are the fans. Right now, we needed England.

“It’s a small cricket fraternity that we have. We were expecting England to be a little bit more responsible. We are hurt, but forward we shall move.”

Pakistan toured England in both 2020 and 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020 in particular, Pakistan agreed to strict bio-secure conditions in order to play in the UK.

New Zealand’s men were visiting Pakistan for the first time in 18 years for three ODIs in Rawalpindi and five T20s in Lahore.

However, the Black Caps pulled out of the tour on the day of the first ODI after “an escalation in the New Zealand government threat levels for Pakistan”.

Raja, who played 57 Tests for Pakistan, added: “When Pakistan needed the Western bloc, they have not supported us.

“Security can be an issue anywhere in the world. We feel slighted by the way things have been handled by the Western bloc.

“They can quote mental fatigue, but that is not good enough.”

England’s men are scheduled to play three Tests in Pakistan at the end of 2022.

The ECB said it wanted to “emphasise an ongoing commitment to our main touring plans in Pakistan for 2022”.

‘ECB puts its players first’

Analysis by Jonathan Agnew, BBC cricket correspondent

There is a clear and interesting difference in England’s stance to that of New Zealand.

Whereas New Zealand withdrew because of a specific security threat, the word ‘security’ doesn’t appear in the ECB statement at all.

Pakistan will be devastated by this second withdrawal within the space of a few days as they try to restore some normality to the game there.

But, with suffocating security and bio-bubbles to come at the T20 World Cup and the Ashes, the ECB has put the welfare of its players first.

‘Nothing short of a catastrophe for PCB’

Analysis by Abid Hussain, BBC Urdu

For the Pakistan Cricket Board, this is nothing short of a catastrophe and their future plans to host other countries, such as Australia in 2022, look very uncertain.

They have in the last few years strived very hard to assure protection and provide a sense of safety and security to visiting teams.

They have successfully hosted Pakistan Super League matches, hosted a World XI and, from 2019 onwards, have had visiting teams from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The emerging sentiment within the cricket fraternity in the country is how this decision highlights the inequality within the game, where power dynamic among countries and commercial interests are often prioritised.

Especially if one considers that Pakistan has toured English shores every year since 2016, and the tour in 2020 was carried out at a time when the UK was seeing the worst of its Covid outbreak and touring teams had to maintain a long, and hard, quarantine.

The expectation by the PCB was that perhaps their tour to New Zealand in early 2021, as well as the summer tour to the UK, would help in those teams making reciprocal visits to Pakistan.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be.