Plan B for Afghanistan: Travel to Sri Lanka via Pakistan and Dubai
Afghanistan board draws up contingency plan for travel, as no commercial flights have taken off from Kabul since the Taliban's takeover of the country
The Afghanistan contingent might have to take a circuitous route to Sri Lanka for their scheduled three-match ODI series against Pakistan, to be played in Hambantota, because of the political turmoil in their country. No commercial flights are taking off from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of the country and, ESPNcricinfo understands, a contingency plan has been worked out by the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB): get Pakistani visas for all the players and support staff, get them to travel by road to Pakistan, then fly to Dubai, and then on to Colombo for the series, if no direct flight out of Kabul can be arranged.
All this follows a period of uncertainty, with an update on Thursday saying that the series would go ahead as planned. That the matches - it's a home series for Afghanistan - would take place in Hambantota, after originally being planned in the UAE, was decided before political events in recent days saw the Taliban take charge following the withdrawal of western forces and the collapse of the elected government in Afghanistan.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the PCB had offered to host the series in one venue in Pakistan after the UAE plan fell through, but the ACB declined, preferring to play the matches in Sri Lanka instead.
The series is due to begin on September 3, and will involve a three-day quarantine period on arrival for both sides.
That commitment, as well as an Afghanistan Under-19 tour to Bangladesh later in September, have been the focus of immediate concern though ACB CEO Hamid Shinwari had said that both tours were going to be on schedule, pending logistical issues around the departure of the sides.
"Cricket is doing very well," Shinwari told ESPNcricinfo earlier this week. "We are going to the office (ACB). The cricket team is preparing for the Pakistan series in Sri Lanka. It is confirmed. We are committed to sending a team to Sri Lanka as soon as possible. There is transition going on here in Afghanistan hence there is a vacuum in flight operations and availability is affected. But we will fly out as soon as we find a flight. We have our boys assembled in Kabul and they are preparing for the series.
"We hope the squad will depart in the next four days. We have updated both the PCB and Sri Lanka Cricket and both are on board. I am thankful to SLC for hosting us and that is really generous of them."
It is understood that the PCB had delayed announcing the Pakistan squad for the series - it was originally due to be announced on August 20 - given the uncertainty over Afghanistan's travel plans.
Even once the Afghanistan players get their Pakistan visas, a further complication could potentially affect the series: the Covid-19 pandemic. On Friday, Sri Lanka announced a 10-day lockdown, two days after the island reported 3793 new cases and a highest-ever single-day death toll of 187. The lockdown is set to run until August 30, four days out from the scheduled start of the Afghanistan-Pakistan series.
GMT 1720 The story was updated with details about the 10-day lockdown in Sri Lanka.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent