New reality dawns as Australia look for neutral series in England
Cricket Australia officials will meet in Dubai on Thursday with counterparts from Pakistan to discuss moving the scheduled 2010 Test series to England. The discussions will take place a day after New Zealand Cricket announced it would not travel to Pakistan for a Test series in November, in what is surely the first of many withdrawals from touring teams in the wake of the Lahore terror attacks.
CA will send senior officials Michael Brown and Geoff Allardice to the United Arab Emirates for a security inspection tour ahead of next month's limited overs series against Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A PCB official said it would send its own delegation to Dubai to meet the Australians, and would take the opportunity to discuss the proposed relocation of the 2010 Test series while there.
It is not yet known whether the PCB intends to use England, the UAE or another destination as a base, or will negotiate neutral venues on a series-by-series basis. But what has become abundantly clear is that few, if any, sides will travel to Pakistan in the near future following Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lankan squad, rendering its national team effectively itinerate.
"The primary purpose of Michael and Geoff's visit is to inspect the venues for the ODI series, and if there is an opportunity to discuss the 2010 series, I'm sure they will look at that," said CA spokesman Peter Young. "Pakistan has started the discussion about playing three Test matches at neutral venues in England in 2010. The PCB is responsible for coming up with the arrangements, but in principle we've been comfortable with the idea. But it is very early days."
Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, told Cricinfo he was open to the idea of playing the Australian series in England next year. "We will see what we can work out," he said. "It might be that we play in England, but we have to discuss this further."
Australia, India, New Zealand and the West Indies are among the teams to have postponed or cancelled tours to Pakistan in recent years. The Black Caps experienced first-hand the dangers of touring Pakistan in 2002, when a bomb exploded outside their Karachi hotel, and NZC chief executive Justin Vaughan said the team would not return in the near future. Vaughan did, however, leave the door open for the series to be shifted to a neutral venue, possibly in the UAE.
"We're not going and I think that's pretty clear," Vaughan told Radio New Zealand. "I don't think any international team will be going to Pakistan in the foreseeable future."
Gerry Sutcliffe, the British sports minister, said he would be supportive of any move by the PCB to stage home matches in England.
'We could offer Pakistan a temporary home here - most of the players play here in the county game already," Sutcliffe said. "There is also great support for the team in many parts of the country - for example, among the Pakistani community in my constituency (Bradford)."
Visting teams have experienced brushes with terrorism in the past, but only now, with the Sri Lankans directly targetted by militants, is Pakistan faced with a blanket boycott. Eight dead security personnel and as many injured Sri Lankan squad members demonstrates the extent of deterioration in the security situation, and provoked an anguished reaction from many within international cricket.
Certainly, the long-suffering supporters of Pakistan cricket are in for more pain. Deprived of regular cricket for years, Pakistani fans can now be certain that no touring team will cross their borders for years to come. The series against Sri Lanka was cancelled immediately after Tuesday's attacks, and similar announcements regarding other tours are expected in the coming months. Pakistan is also likely to be stripped of its status as co-host of the 2011 World Cup.
But CA's chief executive, James Sutherland, offered Pakistani supporters a small glimmer of optimism by confirming his board's intention to progress with next month's ODI series in the UAE. Sutherland retained the right to alter CA's stance if the security situation in the UAE were to worsen, but the fact the board is sending delegates to the region on Thursday for an inspection tour indicates their willingness for the series to proceed.
"We're scheduled to play against Pakistan in the UAE starting in late April and at this stage that tour will go ahead as planned," Sutherland told reporters in Australia. "Of course with any tour we play overseas, it is always subject to the latest security advice we have. We will go through our usual course of pre-tour visits ahead of that tour. Within that we reserve judgement at any stage if we feel it is not safe for out team to be in a certain place, we will take appropriate action and the appropriate steps just as we have in the past."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo