Tour on, says PCB; Zimbabwe say not yet
Zimbabwe's proposed tour of Pakistan witnessed another day of confusing signals from both sides. The PCB twice, in separate statements, asserted unambiguously that the tour was on while ZC insisted through the day that no such decision had been taken.
Late-night reports from Pakistan that the Zimbabwe team was to land in Lahore on May 19 only added to the sense of confusion. They also revealed the importance of this visit for Pakistan, where no Full Member has toured since the attack on the Sri Lankan team in March 2009.
The PCB issued a statement at 9-30 pm local time, quoting its chairman Shaharyar Khan welcoming what he referred to as Zimbabwe Cricket's decision to undertake the tour of Pakistan from next week. "After last evening's unsettling news that Zimbabwe Cricket had 'postponed' its visit to Pakistan, I received a call from my Zimbabwean counterpart Wilson Manase and he most kindly informed me that his Board was still willing and ready to send their team to Pakistan," Shaharyar's statement said.
"This evening we were informed that Zimbabwe Cricket had decided to stick to its plans of sending their team to Pakistan. We welcome this affirmative response, and assure Zimbabwe Cricket again that [of] the best possible security," the statement said.
The press release followed statements made by Shaharyar to reporters in Lahore in the afternoon. He said he had had verbal communication from Manase, the ZC chairman, confirming the visit. "Manase called me three times to reaffirm that Zimbabwe would be touring Pakistan as per schedule," Shahrayar was quoted as saying.
The PCB's COO, Subhan Ahmed, said preparations for the tour were in full swing. "This morning we had a meeting of the organizing committee to tie all the loose ends. The ticket sales shall commence from tomorrow. From the inquiries and feedback that we are getting, people are really eager to come and watch the revival of international cricket in Pakistan."
The statements and the mood they conveyed were in direct contradiction to the sense prevailing within ZC, whose website contained a press release quoting CEO Wilfred Mukondiwa that no decision to tour had been made. "There are consultations going on at the moment with relevant authorities. We do not have a final position as yet," Mukondiwa said.
Friday's confusion echoed developments on Thursday, when ZC issued a press release saying they were suspending the tour to Pakistan on the advice of the country's Sports and Recreation Committee, who, after consulting the Foreign Affairs Ministry, deemed it "unsafe" to travel to Pakistan. The SRC is the organisation which has to okay all national team tours and without their permission, ZC could not send a team.
Less than 30 minutes after that release, ZC's communications manager Lovemore Banda sent a second email retracting the statement and explained that discussions were still "ongoing." Late on Thursday afternoon, Banda confirmed that meetings were still taking place. The situation remained the same on Friday afternoon, with ZC involved in consultation all day and no resolution reached.
Zimbabwe named a squad of 16 players, including one new cap, to travel to Pakistan. Although some players were wary of visiting Pakistan, they all remained available for selection despite the international player body FICA advising them not to go. FICA's own security report called the risks of touring Pakistan "unmanageable."
However, ZC were satisfied with arrangements made for their safety after an advance party, including managing director of cricket Alistair Campbell, visited Pakistan last week. The group were given a tour of the stadium and facilities as well as a thorough explanation of the security plan put in place to protect Zimbabwe's cricketers. Campbell told journalists in Pakistan he was "very excited," about his country being the first Test-playing nation to re-open the door to Pakistan, and hoped it would help bring cricket back to the country.
That trip came before a terrorist attack on a bus in Karachi on Wednesday, which killed over 40 people and brought concerns over visiting Pakistan back into the spotlight, even though Zimbabwe's tour schedule is exclusively confined to Lahore. If the series goes ahead, it could be officiated by PCB-appointed match officials in the event that ICC officials do not travel to Pakistan. The ICC is still awaiting confirmation of the series from both boards before it can take a call over security for its officials.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent