South Africa pull out of Pakistan tour
South Africa have pulled out of their tour of Pakistan, scheduled to begin next week, citing security concerns following a bomb blast in Karachi on Friday. Less than 24 hours earlier the South African board (UCBSA) confirmed the tour would proceed, but the blast led to a decision that security was still to much of an issue. South Africa were scheduled to play three Tests and three one-day internationals in Pakistan.
Karachi police ruled out terrorism in Friday's office blast, and there were no deaths or injuries. The UCBSA attempted to placate the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)by offering to play their series in South Africa, or at a neutral venue, or even postpone it to a later date. "The decision has been taken with much regret," said Ray Mali, president of the UCBSA. "We know how much the tour means to the people of Pakistan and it is also a tour which we have been looking forward to. But the safety of our players is our primary concern."
The PCB were left shellshocked by the decision. Rameez Raja, the PCB's chief executive, confirmed that it has received a fax cancelling the tour. "They have shocked us by calling off the tour," said Raja. "It's uncalled for and disappointing."
Tauqir Zia, the PCB's chairman, went a step further, saying, "We are deeply, deeply disappointed. We have talked to the [South African] ambassador in Islamabad and he too is very disappointed because he gave a positive assessment a few days back."
The PCB stands to lose $3.5 m in sponsorship and television rights if the matches don't go ahead. In its desperation to put the tour back on track, the PCB has offered to rescheduled it to start one week later and to change venues. According to the PCB spokesman, "We have offered to change fixtures in Karachi and Peshawar and delay the start to tour by a week. We hope something positive will come out."
A UCB delegation had visited Pakistan last week, and pronounced that it was safe to play, even though the PCB had refused to shift matches from Karachi and Peshawar.
Bangladesh, who finish their tour on Sunday, are the only team to have played a full series in Pakistan since the September 11 attacks in 2001. New Zealand went home midway through a tour last year after a bomb exploded outside their hotel in Karachi. Series against West Indies and Australia were then played on neutral soil, with both Sharjah and Colombo hosting Test matches.
Raja stressed on the successful conduct of the matches against Pakistan, saying, "We are hosting Bangladesh, aren't they human beings? The television crew is mostly South Africans and they have been here for the last month without any security." He added the cancellation of the South African series might also impact on the series against New Zealand later in the year.
Ehsan Mani, president of the International Cricket Council, said it would "explore all available alternatives" to see if was possible to reschedule the tour.