Security concerns force Akram, Akhtar, Dar to leave India early
Former Pakistan cricketers Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar, who are in India as part of Star Sports' commentary team for the India-South Africa series, will return home before the fifth ODI in Mumbai. The early departure is a security precaution, following Monday's anti-Pakistan protests by the Shiv Sena, a regional political party, who stormed into the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai ahead of a scheduled meeting between BCCI and PCB officials.
Akram's agent Arsalan Haider confirmed that the pair would commentate on the fourth ODI in Chennai and return on October 23, two days before the Mumbai ODI.
The news broke soon after the ICC withdrew Aleem Dar, the Pakistani umpire, from the last two ODIs. An ICC release cited "Monday's incident in Mumbai where a group of extremists stormed into the BCCI office" as the reason for its decision.
On Monday morning, a short while before BCCI president Shashank Manohar and PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan were to discuss a proposed India-Pakistan series in December, a group of 50 workers from the Shiv Sena stormed into the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, shouting anti-Pakistan slogans and demanding the cancellation of the series.
Dar, who is a member of the elite panel of ICC umpires, had officiated in the first three ODIs, and was also scheduled to umpire in the fourth and fifth ODIs, in Chennai and Mumbai. However, the Shiv Sena threatened to stop Dar from officiating in the Mumbai ODI, forcing the ICC's hand.
"Under the present circumstances, it will be unreasonable to expect from Aleem that he will be able to perform his duties to the best of his abilities," an ICC spokesperson said.
Shortly after the protests, Anurag Thakur, the BCCI secretary, was asked about the incident, and whether the board could guarantee Dar's safety.
"There was a possibility of a protest in Saurashtra too where more than 50000 spectators attended. What is the threat and what is the perception, I can't get into it," Thakur said. "India has to host the World Twenty20 in 2016 so it is the responsibility of every Indian to maintain the image that we have of appreciating and enjoying performances of even the opponents. Political issues should be kept aside."
The ICC on Tuesday said in a release that umpire S Ravi would stand in place of Dar for the fourth ODI in Chennai in "exceptional circumstances" as it would lead to two Indian umpires on the field, after BCCI and CSA agreed to it. Ravi was initially supposed to officiate for the ongoing Test series between Pakistan and England in the UAE. The ICC did not name Dar's replacement for the fifth and final ODI in Mumbai.
*1620GMT: The story was amended to include news of Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar's early departures