Player lobbies step up pressure to pull out

The ICC's decision to go ahead with the Champions Trophy in Pakistan has drawn sharp criticism from players' associations in non-Asian countries, with South African cricketers leading the criticism of a decision backed by their own board. The reactions have mirrored concerns voiced at the meeting, with reports from Australia and New Zealand suggesting that their top players might not attend the tournament. The ICC, on its part, has waived penalties for player pull-outs.

"The South African team are very disappointed with today's decision and remain extremely concerned about safety and security in Pakistan," Tony Irish, chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association, told Reuters. "We hope Cricket South Africa (CSA) will sit down with us and talk to us about whether they are seriously considering sending a team to the Champions Trophy in Pakistan or not."

Paul Marsh, the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) chief executive, was also disappointed with the decision. "We've gone through this with a fine-tooth comb and we don't think the risk to go to Pakistan is acceptable," he said on Friday. "I am very hopeful Cricket Australia will make that decision. It would be unfair to put that decision back on the players and it would be inconsistent to put that decision back on players given what's happened in the past."

Marsh said despite the ICC's measures, the ACA would maintain its recommendation to Australia's cricketers not to play in Pakistan.

Cricket Australia spokesperson Peter Young told the Age: "We're not willing to send our players or team officials anywhere that is not safe. We will always reserve the right to put player welfare first."

An ECB spokesman was quoted by AFP as saying it would have "further extensive discussions" with key stakeholders - including England players and Team England - following which the ECB "will be in a position to make a clear decision."

Kevin Pietersen has said he has concerns about travelling to Pakistan: "The ECB are coming together on - I think - August 3 or 4, having spoken to [chief executive] David Collier this morning, and he reassured me that the decision will probably be taken out of the players' hands, which is great.

"I really hope the players don't have to take the lead, to be totally honest. But I don't know, we'll see the outcome of that meeting, whatever the decision is. If it's taken out of the players' hands then great. If not, then I'll certainly make a decision."

Officials from Australia, New Zealand and England are believed to have informed the ICC board, which conducted a teleconference on Thursday to confirm the venue, that their players were concerned about the security situation in Pakistan and may decide to pull out of the tournament, which starts on September 11.

New Zealand Cricket (NZC) said on Friday in a press release that it "is talking" to its players about the security situation in Pakistan following the ICC board's decision to go ahead with the tournament.

"NZC is talking to the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association (NZCPA) about player safety and security concerns following the ICC's overnight decision that the Champions Trophy remain in Pakistan," the NZC said. Justin Vaughan, the chief executive of NZC, said he would also discuss player concerns with the board as well as the safety and security reports upon which the decision was based.

NZCPA executive manager Heath Mills had earlier slammed the proposal to go ahead with the tournament in Pakistan. "We believe this is a poor ICC decision ... we can't see how they have put player safety as their No. 1 priority and this is very disappointing," Mills told New Zealand-based Radio Sport. "Our recommendation to our players is not to travel to Pakistan at this point in time. There isn't one player I have spoken to who is comfortable about travelling to Pakistan at the moment."

The decision, though, was welcomed unequivocally by Pakistan's captain Shoaib Malik. "It would have been a great loss for Pakistan cricket had the Champions Trophy been taken away from here," Malik told IANS. "I'm thankful to the cricket world for taking a decision that is great for the sport in this country."

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, said in Colombo that players opting to pull out would not be penalised, nor would their boards. He hoped the task force formed to assess the security ahead of the tournament would be able to convince players. "This is not something I treat lightly but we can manage it," Lorgat said. "We will use this task team to ensure that we properly communicated with players who have concerns. We are making sure FICA is a part of the process to understand the situation."

"We have to separate perception from reality. We will do our utmost to assure them that we would not go into an event where safety or security is going to be compromised.

"We need to gain trust as event organizers," Lorgat said, "and will do everything possible to ensure their safety and security."