Australia unlikely to tour Pakistan
Australia's tour to Pakistan, scheduled for March and April, is looking increasingly doubtful following last week's meeting between the chairmen of both boards in Dubai. Following that discussion, Creagh O'Connor, Cricket Australia's chairman, sent a letter to the Pakistan board expressing reservations about the security situation inside Pakistan.
"We received a letter yesterday from CA following our meeting and, though they reiterated their commitment to supporting Pakistan cricket, they said security briefings they have received in Australia are advising them against touring," Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, told Cricinfo.
A Cricket Australia security delegation is due to visit the country in the aftermath of the general elections due to be on February 18. But a report in the Urdu daily Jang said Cricket Australia was unsure whether sending experts would serve any purpose now, indicating perhaps that a decision not to tour had already been made.
"They have asked us whether we still want a security delegation sent here and if so when," Ashraf said. "In response to this, we have told CA that we still firmly believe that the environment for cricket and cricketers is still safe here. We have also said that the security team should visit Pakistan from February 25, exactly one week after the elections."
Ashraf is also concerned that Australia's decision could set a precedent. "It would be very damaging to Pakistan cricket and it is not just Pakistan-specific, because no country in the world is safe from terrorist acts," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "If we start letting this dictate our sports events, then I am afraid the whole world of cricket could be turned upside down and it could have serious repercussions financially and [for] the very existence of the Future Tours Programme."
He also didn't rule out the possibility of Pakistan boycotting their tour to Australia in 2009. "This is a premature question, but we will keep all our options open. We are still very hopeful that Cricket Australia will make the right decision."
Australian players have expressed concerns about touring Pakistan for what would be their first visit in a decade, following a year of increasing violence and instability through the country. Despite this South Africa and Zimbabwe have both completed tours in recent months without any glitches.
But privately, board officials now concede that the trip is becoming an unlikely prospect and the PCB has already insured the series against cancellation. "Certainly public utterances coming from Australia seem quite indicative of them not wanting to tour Pakistan so it wouldn't be a surprise if they pulled out," one official told Cricinfo.
The official also said that alternative options and opponents in case Australia do pull out are being examined. "Nothing has materialised so far, but after the next meeting things will become clearer. We are trying to get other options here, but our priority is to get Australia here."
Pakistan will, however, continue to press for the visit to go ahead. Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, is scheduled to meet James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, in Kuala Lumpur and discuss security arrangements further. "We stress that incidents could happen anywhere in the world," Ashraf said. "They happen in Sri Lanka, they happened in Glasgow last year when we were there for an ODI and bombs went off in England in 2005 when Australia were there. We have to make decisions not just on perceptions, but ground realities.
"We are making every effort to ensure the tour goes ahead. It would be a big loss to Pakistan cricket if they didn't tour."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo