Malik keen to ease player concerns January 1, 2008

Pakistan will be safe for Australia - Imran

Cricinfo staff

Shoaib Malik: "It would be bad for the game and for the people in Pakistan if they did not come." © Getty Images

Imran Khan believes Australia should go ahead with their scheduled tour of Pakistan this year despite the unrest in the country after the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Imran, an opposition politician in Pakistan, said Cricket Australia and its players should not be influenced by images of street violence after Bhutto's death and he did not expect the unrest to last too long.

"I don't think the cricketers are under any threat at all," Imran told the Melbourne radio station 3AW. "Obviously it looks much worse from there than it is living in Pakistan. This is not going to last two months to when the Australians appear. In the context of cricket, there will be nothing to worry about if the tour is in March. I don't think the Australians should have any worries."

Imran's comments came as Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan captain, offered to take calls from any Australian players who had concerns over their security if the tour went ahead. Andrew Symonds said on the weekend that he would be willing to pull out of the trip if he was not satisfied his safety could be guaranteed.

"I would like to speak to them personally and tell them that we will have good security for them in Pakistan," Malik told the Sydney Morning Herald. "India have come here and there was a lot of talk then, but in the end there was no problem. It will be the same for Australia.

"I do not want to comment about the politics. I am a sportsman and not very good about talking about politics. But I would like to say that with what is happening in my country, it is getting under control, and it will get better. There is still more than two months. It would be bad for the game and for the people in Pakistan if they did not come."

Cricket Australia is still planning to send a security delegation to Pakistan in February to assess the situation and determine whether the team can visit as planned. But the date of the Pakistan election - and whether it proceeds as scheduled on January 8 - is looming as a critical issue in whether Australia will deem conditions safe for the security delegation to make its trip.

Nasim Ashraf, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, has again said there would be no repeat of 2002-03, when Pakistan's home Tests against Australia were relocated to Sri Lanka and Sharjah. "Playing at a neutral venue is not an option with us," Ashraf told AFP, "because it's not only cricket, it's a matter of the development of the game and the fans' interest so we are confident that Australia will not deprive our fans."