After nearly 10 years spent trying to woo back cricket’s international elite, Pakistan is facing the prospect of being declared the game’s no-go area again, and the anger is palpable.
A sense of deja vu swept the country on Friday when New Zealand abruptly pulled the plug on their first Pakistan tour in 18 years, citing a security alert.
With England’s board yet to make up its mind about what would be its team’s first visit to the South Asian country in 16 years next month, Pakistan’s bumper home season looks in disarray.
It is a massive setback for the cricket-crazy nation which moved heaven and earth to project itself as a safe destination and won tour commitments from several leading teams.
“It’s been pretty gut-wrenching,” Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive Wasim Khan told a virtual news conference late on Sunday.
“We have done a huge amount of work in building our credibility back up again in world cricket. The rug has been pulled out from under our feet as quick as that.”
‘Hit us very hard’: PCB chief
Khan said the abrupt pull-out of the New Zealand team “has hit us very hard”, imploring the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) not to cancel the tour to Pakistan scheduled in October.
England men’s and women’s teams are scheduled to tour Pakistan between October 13 and 21.
“We certainly hope England will be touring and that will be announced later on today. And we certainly believe they should be coming and we hope that they will be coming,” Khan said.
Criticising New Zealand Cricket’s decision to abandon the tour, Khan said, “It’s easy to walk out of countries like Pakistan without any reason, without any dialogue, without any discussion. That has to stop, because the inequality has to stop in the world of cricket.”
The New Zealand team arrived in Dubai with some of the players expected to stay on for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup while the rest return home.
Cricket Australia said it was monitoring the situation and would “talk with the relevant authorities once more information becomes known” before its scheduled tour early next year.
Cricket West Indies did not reply to Reuters news agency’s email asking if they would reconsider their tour of Pakistan later this year but the atmosphere is not promising.
“The abrupt departure of New Zealand has left many scars for us, and we just certainly hope that this is not going to have long-term consequences for us moving forward,” added Khan.
With the Taliban sweeping to power in neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan will have to work extra hard to try and convince other teams to tour the country.
Shunned by all after the deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore, Pakistan’s “home” matches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been played without fan support and earned the PCB little in the way of revenue.
Pakistan has no plans to again move “home” games offshore, says Khan.
Test cricket returned to the country when Sri Lanka visited in 2019, but the PCB officials know the country will only be deemed safe when the likes of England and Australia tour.
‘Very dangerous precedent’
In recent times, teams touring Pakistan were accorded the kind of security usually reserved for visiting heads of state and their cricket establishment wonders what else they could have done.
“NZ just killed Pakistan cricket,” tweeted former Test bowler Shoaib Akhtar, while angry fans demanded Pakistan boycott next month’s T20 World Cup match against New Zealand.
The PCB has ruled out that prospect but is infuriated at New Zealand’s refusal to share the exact nature of the threat that derailed the tour.
“It sets a very dangerous precedent if countries can unilaterally just abandoned tours. Then it does affect relationships. Where does it leave us as a sport?” Khan asked.
The PCB official said he would be making a broader point at the International Cricket Council (ICC), seeking to end the “inequality” within the governing body.
“Inequality exists, and I don’t care what people say,” the British-born former chief executive of English county Leicester asserted.
The players are already dreading the prospect of having to resume playing their “home” games abroad, but Khan said the PCB would not go down without a fight.
“As it stands at the moment, we have no plans to go abroad to play our cricket,” Khan said.
“It’s taken us a long time to return. We are adamant that we remain safe, but of course, we have also got to have contingency and backups.”