KARACHI: Pakistani cricketers and sports experts on Tuesday said the announcement by England to postpone its Pakistan tour after New Zealand’s decision to abruptly call off its series without playing a single match was a “huge setback” to the revival of international cricket in the country.
One of the top cricketing nations that lifted world cup trophies in the past, Pakistan regularly hosted test playing teams and international tournaments until a group of militants targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009.
In the coming years, the cricket-crazy South Asian nation was deprived of watching international teams in action in their own country.
“It is a huge setback to the efforts of reviving international cricket in Pakistan,” Umar Gul, a former Pakistani pacer, said while urging the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take notice and prevent teams from taking such unilateral decisions.
Zimbabwe sent its team to visit Pakistan in 2015, though no major cricketing squad visited the country after the 2009 attack.
Some high-profile international players started playing in the country, however, after the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament.
This resulted in a change of international perception regarding Pakistan’s security environment, making international cricket squads like New Zealand and England agree to tour the country after more than a decade.
“The decision of these two teams to abandon their tour of the country will negatively impact Pakistan’s own preparations for the world cup,” Gul told Arab News. “It also has financial implications. Besides, it will harm our efforts to revive international cricket in the country despite making best security arrangements.”
A Pakistani sports show host, Shoaib Jatt, called England’s decision to postpone its Pakistan series unjustified while pointing out that his country’s own team had visited the United Kingdom when the tour was considered highly dangerous by medical experts due to the prevalence of COVID-19.
“It is definitely a blow to Pakistan,” he said. “It is not about losing one or two cricket series. We are talking about the revival of international cricket for which a lot of effort has been made.”
Qamar Ahmed, a cricket expert and former first-class player, maintained that PSL had made a huge contribution in bringing back international cricket to Pakistan, though he added the recent refusals of New Zealand and England to play in Pakistan were not going to be helpful.
“It has been more than a decade since the Sri Lankan team came under attack in Lahore,” Ahmed said. “It will take several more years to revive international cricket in this country after the decisions made by New Zealand and England.”
Gul said, however, Pakistan was a resilient nation which would come out much stronger from the recent crisis.
“We have a good world cup team,” he maintained. “If they play well, it may change the situation for us.”
The new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Ramiz Raja recently said in a video message that his country would seek compensation from New Zealand for abandoning its Pakistan tour on the basis of vague security threats.
While New Zealand Cricket (NZC) did not respond to request for comment, its chief executive David White told a sports website in his own country that he was hopeful that Pakistan and New Zealand would be able to “work through” their concerns in the coming days.
“We’ve got a very close working relationship with Pakistan Cricket,” White said.
The English Cricket Board (ECB) shared a statement with Arab News, saying the ECB had a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan but had postponed its visit after careful deliberations.
“The ECB 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 statement read, adding that the mental and physical well-being of players and support staff remained the highest priority.
However, a leading Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Hafeez pointed out that his own team members had also been playing in tough conditions and under huge mental stress.
“The decision of New Zeeland and England cricket teams to withdraw is very painful for me as a cricketer. We have completed difficult tours where the conditions were not very good at all, but we did not quit,” he told Arab News, adding that the Green Shirts had to complete a 15-days quarantine period during their last tour to England.
“All the hardships are borne for cricket, the gentlemen’s game which demands great sportsman’s spirit. A hoax threat alert should not have been the reason for anyone to call off a series,” he added.