'Making excuses': Pakistan furious as England withdraw from tour due to mental health concerns

·4-min read
Pakistan cricketers.
Pakistan cricketers.

England have been accused of “making excuses” and “failing a member of the cricketing fraternity” after cancelling their tour to Pakistan next month due to worries about the mental health of the players.

The England & Wales Cricket Board’s decision was expected but was met with fury in Pakistan where officials fear the decision will set back their cricket by years.

The decision follows New Zealand’s abrupt cancellation of their tour to Pakistan last week just moments before their opening match in Rawalpindi due to security fears.

The ECB board met on Monday and decided to cancel the trip next month and would not be “ideal preparation” for the Twenty20 World Cup as well as further burden players wrestling with worries over quarantine rules for the Ashes tour.

Pakistan officials did not buy that explanation on Monday and pointed out their players spent more than two months in suffocating covid bubbles in England last summer when the pandemic was at its height, saving the ECB from losing millions of pounds in broadcast income.

The Twenty20 series in Rawalpindi and women’s tour were arranged as a thank you and were originally scheduled for January this year but put back to October because of the crowded schedule.

Security arrangements were signed off after talks with the Pakistan government and guarantees of 4,000 armed personnel guarding the team. The situation only changed when the New Zealand government were handed intelligence that threatened an attack on their team on Friday, although concerns had been mounting ever since the Taliban takeover of neighbouring Afghanistan.

It is understood the ECB were made aware of the same intelligence before making their decision on Monday.

“The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in. We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region and 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,” said an ECB statement.

The ECB reiterated its commitment to tour Pakistan in 2022 but relations have been strained and security will dominate the build up to that trip.

“Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment & failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most,” wrote Ramiz Raja, the PCB chairman, on Twitter. “Survive we will inshallah. A wake up call for Pakistan team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.”

Raja later told Sky Sports: "Now was the time for England to come to our help... it is unfortunate, it is disappointing because it may have a dominoes effect." He added: "Whatever sacrifices we made last season to help England during the Covid situation, that appears to have gone wasted so we have learned a harsh lesson."

England’s tour was more symbolic than of cricketing importance. It would have been the first visit to Pakistan by England since 2005 and seen as a vital step towards teams touring there again after more than decade of series being held in the UAE after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009. The Pakistan Cricket Board will now fear a tour by Australia tour in February will also be cancelled. Australia have not toured Pakistan since 1998.

Meanwhile, Telegraph Sport understands that England’s five match T20 series in the West Indies in January has been moved forward a week. The series was originally due to run from January 28 to February 5 but has been moved forward because the West Indies’s first match of their limited overs tours will be played on February 6. England’s T20 series in the Caribbean will be played immediately after the Ashes series so none of their Test squad will be involved in the tour.

Elsewhere, security around Tuesday's third one-day international between England Women and New Zealand Women at Leicestershire's Uptonsteel County Ground has been raised after the emergence of a "threatening email" relating to the tourists.

The game was still due to go ahead as planned at 1pm, after what was reportedly a bomb threat against the team hotel was investigated and judged not to be credible.

"The ECB have received a threatening email relating to NZC. Although this did not specifically reference the White Ferns it was treated seriously, investigated, and deemed not credible," a spokesperson for New Zealand Cricket said on Monday night.

"The White Ferns have now arrived in Leicester and, as a precaution, security around them has been boosted."

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