Uncertain Ponting won't commit to Pakistan
Ricky Ponting expects crucial decisions on Pakistan in the next few days after a security update from the ICC failed to ease the Australian players' concerns. James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, agreed that it was crunch time, while the ICC conceded it still had just enough time to switch the Champions Trophy to Sri Lanka if necessary.
An ICC task force visited Melbourne on Friday to brief Ponting and Sutherland on the safety measures in place for the Pakistan event, which is scheduled to begin on September 12. Ponting said while the security efforts of the Pakistan board and the ICC looked positive on paper, the players remained anxious over the implementation of the procedures, a complaint they share with the New Zealand squad, which was briefed on Thursday.
"We've heard what they had to say, we're a lot more informed now than we were before the day started and there's obviously some decisions to be made in the next few days," Ponting said after the meeting. "The concerns are still there, of course. There have been lots of things said that are going to be put into place and let's hope those things are put in place to an appropriate level."
Ponting said it was hard on the players as they tried to prepare for the event, unsure where or if they would have the chance to defend their title. "We're only three weeks away from one of the biggest one-day tournaments that we play and we still don't know if we're going."
David Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, who is leading the ICC delegation, said if the four nations - England and South Africa also have safety fears - remained reluctant to visit Pakistan, it was not too late to move the Champions Trophy to Sri Lanka. "We're very short of time now," Richardson said. "If we're going to relocate now it needs to be made within the next few days. Operationally it would be difficult, but it's certainly not an option that would be discarded at this point and it could be relocated."
While Sutherland said the ball was partially in the ICC's court in terms of how they responded to Australia's worries, Richardson was seeking a commitment either way from Australia. He said until the four countries made their decisions it was impossible to predict where or in what format the tournament would take place.
"They [Cricket Australia] need to give us a firm indication," Richardson said. "All they've done today is listen to the facts. Obviously we've heard that there are still some concerns, particularly from the players' association, mainly to do with the confidence in the actual implementation of the security measures which are in place."
Sutherland agreed time was running out to make a decision, but he was keen to see how the ICC dealt with the remaining concerns of the players and Cricket Australia. "It's 24 days now till the tournament starts, so it's coming down to crunch time," Sutherland said.
"What we've always said is that we reserve our rights to make a decision at the appropriate time. Even if we decide that we're going we still reserve our rights to change our mind at any stage.
"Taking on board the advice we've received today, but also our ongoing assessments from various other sources, we've got some thinking to do in the next little while. Things will obviously develop in the coming couple of weeks."
Ponting, Sutherland, Michael Clarke and the Australian Cricketers' Association chief executive Paul Marsh heard the opinions of the task force. Another set of ICC officials will speak to South Africa and England early next week.
If Australia decide to defend their title in Pakistan the makeup of their squad will depend on the willingness of individuals to tour. Some players, particularly Andrew Symonds, have voiced their concerns about going to Pakistan and Ponting expects the playing group to ponder the situation while Cricket Australia makes up its mind.
"I haven't got a decision to make until Cricket Australia make a decision," Ponting said. "It's a hypothetical question - I think the [players] that you've probably heard from before [might not go]. But we'll wait and see what happens in the next few days."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo