The England men and women's tours to Pakistan, scheduled for next month, are in severe doubt following New Zealand Cricket's decision to abandon their own tour to the country on Friday (September 17) after what they described as a “government security alert”.
Earlier on Friday, the ECB released a statement which read: “We are liaising with our security team who are on the ground in Pakistan to fully understand the situation. The ECB Board will then decide in the next 24-48 hours whether our planned tour should proceed.”
Cricbuzz understands that the Board have not yet made an official decision but the indications are that the two match T20I series for England's men's team and the five-match programme for the women's team will be postponed. Although it is still a possibility that the two series will go ahead, a source close to the men's team confirmed to Cricbuzz that they were hearing the tour is going to be called-off.
When asked about the England series in a press conference today, Pakistani Interior Minister, Sheikh Rasheed, did not seem positive about the prospect of the tour going ahead either. Despite saying preparations were complete for England's visit, Rasheed appeared to suggest he thought the ECB would go the same way as NZC.
That would not be a surprise. The ECB use the same security company as NZC and are therefore certain to be receiving the same information that prompted New Zealand's withdrawal from Pakistan. ESI Risk is headed up by Reg Dickason, a vastly experienced security advisor, who the ECB and their players trust implicitly. They are highly unlikely to go against his advice.
The first men's ODI of a three-match series between Pakistan and New Zealand was due to take place on Friday (September 17) in Rawalpindi. When neither set of players had turned up with 30 minutes to go before the start of play, it became clear that there was an issue with the game. Initially, a COVID-19 problem was suspected but then NZC confirmed that they were abandoning the tour following security advice.
A statement read: “Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour.” NZC chief executive David White said: “I understand this will be a blow for the PCB, who have been wonderful hosts, but player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option.”
The nature of the security threat raised to NZC is not yet known and the PCB released a statement shortly after the abandonment had been confirmed saying Imran Khan, the Pakistan Prime Minister, had confirmed to his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ahern, that no threat existed. The New Zealand team had the protection of presidential level security, including that of Pakistan's special forces.
“Pakistan Cricket Board and Pakistan Government made foolproof security arrangements for all visiting teams,” the PCB statement read. “We have assured the New Zealand Cricket of the same. The Pakistan Prime Minister spoke personally to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and informed her that we have one of the best intelligence systems in the world and that no security threat of any kind exists for the visiting team.”
The decision to abandon the tour anyway was met with frustration, disappointment and barely disclosed anger by the PCB. New PCB Chairman, Ramiz Raja, tweeted: “Crazy day it has been! Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it's not shared!! Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC.”
The ECB had sent ESI Risk's David Snare to Pakistan a few weeks ago to conduct a review of the security arrangements in the country and at that stage, no significant issues were raised as part of his report. The ECB subsequently named their men's squad for the T20 WC and confirmed that the full party would travel to Pakistan as it was the beginning of their preparations for the tournament.
When the series were announced late last year, it was billed as a historic tour. England's women's team have never toured Pakistan and the men's team last played there in 2005. These two series were scheduled as a thank you for Pakistan's men team completing their tour to England last summer, during the early stages of the pandemic, which played a significant role in keeping English cricket afloat financially. The England men's team is due to tour Pakistan for a Test series next winter.