British government undermines ECB by claiming there were no security reasons for calling off Pakistan tour

·6-min read
A member of the Police Elite Force stands guard at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, after the New Zealand cricket team pulled out of a Pakistan cricket tour over security concerns, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan September 17, 2021. - REUTERS
A member of the Police Elite Force stands guard at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, after the New Zealand cricket team pulled out of a Pakistan cricket tour over security concerns, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan September 17, 2021. - REUTERS

The British government distanced itself from England’s decision to not tour Pakistan on Monday insisting they told the England & Wales Cricket Board there were no security reasons for calling off the trip.

In an unprecedented move, Christian Turner, the High Commissioner for Pakistan, commented on the ECB’s decision to cancel next month’s men’s and women’s matches saying “the British High Commission supported the tour, did not advise against it on security grounds and our travel advice for Pakistan has not changed.”

The ECB cancelled the trip on Monday citing the mental welfare of its players, and not wanting to put them through another covid bubble, hinting at security fears after New Zealand abruptly ended their tour last week following a threat to the team.

The decision by the ECB caused outrage in Pakistan, who insisted the team would be safe, a view seemingly backed up by the British government, and could not understand why the players were not happy to go on a trip that was only four days long.

Trust has eroded so far that Pakistan are already making back up arrangements for next year’s tour by England in case they pull out at the last minute citing security fears.

England are scheduled to go back to Pakistan for five ODIs and three Tests in October to December 2022 and emphasised their “ongoing commitment” to that trip on Monday when announcing the decision to cancel next month’s short tour.

However, Ramiz Raja, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, questioned that commitment when he spoke to his counterpart at the ECB, Ian Watmore. “I spoke about this with Ian. I said what is the guarantee of England coming back and playing here in 2022, because a month before that tour you can easily quote tiredness, players being spooked again, sick of living in a bubble, or a threat perception that will once again be not shared with us. He clearly had no answer to that. So we’ll have a back-up plan for sure,” he said.

Pakistan had offered to move next month’s matches to Lahore and house England at the high performance centre next to the ground to cut down on travel as well as play behind closed doors.

Raja revealed there were no discussions about the women’s tour to Pakistan, the trips cancelled as one by the ECB, and also claimed Watmore told him the decision had been taken “out of his hands”, suggesting player power was behind the decision. The England players were not directly consulted, instead the discussions went through the Team England Player Partnership, the arm of the Professional Cricketers' Association that represents the international players, led by Richard Bevan. There were no discussions about sending a weakened team.

“Ian appeared as if the decision was out of his hands, there were other influences who really made the call on his behalf. England’s take was not security. It was players being spooked and uncomfortable, and players’ association being iffy. There was no cricket call at all. Pakistan’s security is the best in the sporting world. I don’t know how else we can convince the world that everything is fine here,” said Raja. "It's the feeling of being used and then binned -- that is the feeling that I have right now. I certainly feel that we are up against a western mindset, a Western bloc."

ICC face anxious wait to see if Afghanistan will compete under Taliban's flag

By Tim Wigmore

The International Cricket Council faces an anxious wait to see whether Afghanistan is instructed to compete under the Taliban flag at next month’s Twenty20 World Cup, which would raise huge pressure on the sport’s governing body to act over the country's participation in the tournament.

As preparations intensify ahead of the start of the T20 World Cup, which begins on October 17, all 16 participating nations are required to submit the flags under which they will be playing in the coming days. This is normally a simple bureaucratic step but it could determine whether Afghanistan compete in the tournament.

The sacking of the chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board on Monday - Hamid Shinwari replaced by Naseeb Zadran Khan, a decision believed to be at the behest of the Taliban - has raised fresh fears that the Afghanistan national team might be instructed to play under the Taliban flag by the new government. So far there have been no indications that this will be the case, but the ICC is continually monitoring the situation.

Should Afghanistan announce their intention to play under the Taliban flag, they would be likely to be barred from competing in the T20 World Cup by the ICC and potentially be suspended by the governing body. Telegraph Sport understands that the ICC would call an emergency board meeting to discuss what to do if Afghanistan planned to play under the Taliban flag at the T20 World Cup. Such a board meeting could then vote to suspend the side.

Afghanistan are due to begin their T20 World Cup campaign in the Super 12 stage, for which they qualified for automatically after being ranked among the top eight T20 nations in the world. Telegraph Sport understands that no contingency plans have yet been drawn up by the ICC about who could replace Afghanistan in the competition if they were suspended, with the expectation still that they will compete under their national flag, as has previously been the case.

The ICC is already set to discuss Afghanistan’s membership at the next board meeting, in November. Under the ICC rules full members must have a national women’s team, albeit an exemption was offered to Afghanistan when they were brought into the fold in 2017. Earlier this month the ICC said it was "concerned" about the fate of the women's game in the country following the Taliban's assertion that females would be banned from participating.

As one of the 12 full members of the ICC, Afghanistan receives $5 million a year in funding, as well as a vote by the board. To suspend a full member requires a two-thirds majority of the ICC board, meaning that 12 of the 17 board members would need to vote in favour.

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