September 13, 2001

First Test may be shifted from Peshawar

The first cricket Test between New Zealand and Pakistan is expected to be shifted from Peshawar in the wake of a likely US attack on Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) refused to speculate on the change in venue, but a decision on the issue would be finalized in the next 48 hours or maybe next week.

Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium has been put on as stand-bye venue for the first Test which is to be played between Oct 2 and 6.

The Kabul border is little over 50km drive from Peshawar and has been an attractive tourists spot for all the visiting teams because of the historic Khyber Pass. The security aware Australians had spent a day on the Kabul border when they last toured in 1998.

However, the visit had ended in stern warnings by the Australian Cricket Board (PCB) to two of its players and manager Steve Bernard after a foreign news agency released photographs showing the cricketers using sophisticated, modern and automatic guns on a shooting range.

The drawn second Test of that tour in Peshawar is remembered for Mark Taylor's 334 not out and also for the banner headline a local newspaper gave on the day of the first Test. "Australian begin Test under the shadow of gun" read the caption of match's curtain raiser.

Unconfirmed reports claim that the PCB officials discussed about the change of first Test venue with New Zealand officials and assured them that their demands would be accommodated if alarm bells rang in Afghanistan.

United Nations and US have already started evacuating its people from Kabul but leading print and electronic news agencies have begun deploying its people to cover the anticipated attack. However it is learnt that the PCB were mentally prepared for the cancellation of the tour because of security fears.

In the last 17 years, two tours have ended prematurely. In 1984-85, India had aborted the tour after Indra Gandhi was assassinated while in 1990-91, England A returned without playing a match after Gulf War broke.

Needless to say that New Zealand have already delayed their arrival in Pakistan for at least 48 hours as they are said to be monitoring situation.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's former Test cricketers urged New Zealand to go ahead with the tour during which the tourists will play three Tests and as many one-day internationals.

Former chairman of selectors Salahuddin Ahmad said: "Pakistan has a very safe history as far as cricketers are concerned. Never ever a foreign player or the team has been threatened in this part of the world."

He said Pakistan had nothing to do with whatever happened in United States. "If New Zealand cricketers didn't show any concerns in Sri Lanka when Colombo airport was attacked by Tamil Tigers, they have no reason to be scared about playing here."

Former captain Intikhab Alam felt after Pakistan has assured full security for the tourists, New Zealand should trust the hosts. "I am sure New Zealand cricketers are aware of the hospitality, respect, protocol and security they have got on their previous tours. This time it will certainly be no different," he said.

"Cricket shouldn't suffer because of something which has nothing to do with either Pakistan or New Zealand," he added.