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ECB's hypocrisy and double-standards could fast lose them friends

Time and again, the board is demanding standards of others which they are nowhere near maintaining themselves.

George Dobell
George Dobell
Cast your mind back a few years. It's June 2017. The Champions Trophy has just started in England. Pakistan and India are about to play a match at Edgbaston.
It could have been sold out ten times over.
Then, tragedy struck. A van was deliberately driven into pedestrians on London Bridge (about two miles from the venue for the tournament's final, at The Kia Oval) and the occupants then fled the vehicle stabbing members of the public randomly. Eleven people died, and 48 more were injured.
But the next day, the game in Birmingham - about 110 miles northwest of London - went ahead. Indeed, every game in the tournament went ahead. Despite an obvious increase in security measures - including road blocks hundreds of yards from grounds and armed police at matches - none of the teams went home and every match was completed. At the time, many of us celebrated the defiant spirit that refused to be bowed by threats.
But if it's important that life goes on in Leicester and London, it's surely important it goes on in Lahore and Larkana, too. And what Monday's announcement from the ECB confirming the cancellation of their tour to Pakistan sustained, was a culture of double-standards which appears to view some nations are far less important than others.
Let's be clear: the Foreign Office has not changed their travel advice about visiting Pakistan in light of New Zealand's decision to abandon their own tour. ESPNcricinfo also understands that the advice from the ECB's own security experts (ESI Risk) was unchanged. That is to say, they believed that, with the current protocols in place - the same protocols that allowed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to visit Pakistan not so long ago - it was safe to travel. It is also understood the British High Commission was satisfied with the plans. This is categorically not a case where security advice has compelled the ECB to cancel.
To be fair to the ECB, their statement doesn't even pretend this is the case. Instead, they cite the anxiety such a trip could provoke in players who have already spent many months living in a controlled environment.
Maybe at first glance that seems reasonable. Certainly, players are jaded by the time in bubbles. And yes, it might be expected individuals would be allowed the opportunity to skip the tour if any aspect of it made them uncomfortable.
But let's remember: this was more city-break than tour. It was scheduled to last, in total, four days. It involved one day of quarantine and two T20Is on consecutive days. It was two days shorter than the quarantine period required for players returning to the UAE to complete the IPL.
Pakistan, it is understood, had also offered to move the matches to Lahore and play them behind closed doors. England could surely have found 14 players who were prepared to tour; plenty more have visited Pakistan to play in the PSL, after all.
"Despite having asked numerous nations to put up with various hardships to ensure they could honour their own broadcast agreements, England appear unwilling or unable to reciprocate when other nations are the ones in need."
Remember this, too: Pakistan answered England's calls for help in 2020. They travelled from a county where Covid had hardly hit, to a nation under siege from the virus. Having been promised they could serve their 10-day quarantine period in The Hyatt (a nice four-star hotel) in Birmingham, they subsequently found themselves in a Travelodge in Derby. They spent about seven weeks in the country in all - a country which, at that time, has no access to vaccines - and, by doing so, ensured English cricket was able to keep the lights on. Put simply, England - and all the England players who were not obliged to take pay-cuts - owe them.
But, over the last 18 months or so, England have now abandoned or cancelled tours to Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Conversations about the Ashes are ongoing. Despite having asked numerous nations to put up with various hardships to ensure they could honour their own broadcast agreements, they appear unwilling or unable to reciprocate when other nations are the ones in need. England are, it seems, all take and very little give.
The IPL may well be relevant. With the Pakistan tour now abandoned, England's players are highly likely to be free to remain at the tournament for the knockout stages. Some will find mention of that tournament cynical and irrelevant. But it is remarkable how often changes to the schedule of international cricket occur which just happen to benefit the IPL. This, after the abandonment of the Manchester Test, is the second time in little more than a week.
But it is, perhaps, the hypocrisy that grates most. Terror threats are not, sadly, especially unusual in the UK. Just before the 2005 Ashes - one of the most celebrated series in modern times - London experienced one of the most serious attacks in living memory. More than 50 people were murdered in a series of incidents around the capital on July 7. Australia played an ODI in the city three days later. Even on Monday, ESPNcricinfo learned that threats had been made against the New Zealand women's team who are due to play an ODI in Leicester on Tuesday. Instead of taking the first flight home, the threat was dismissed as "not credible."
Imagine the reaction had England travelled pretty much anywhere during the pandemic and found themselves confronted by a spectator running on to the pitch. And then remember that the same spectator made it on to the pitch in three successive games in the series between England and India.
On at least one occasion, he made physical contact with a player. As it happens, he was nothing more than an attention-seeking buffoon. But what if he had been carrying a knife? Or a hammer? There is nothing that could have stopped him using it. England's security protocols failed. And they failed consistently.
It's worth reflecting for a moment on how England would have reacted had any of these incident occurred to them while they were on tour. Although there are examples of England sides taking a phlegmatic view - the India tours of 1985 and 2008-09 both spring to mind, while the Bangladesh tour of 2016 might be relevant, too - the evidence of recent times suggests England would have been on the first flight home.
Again and again, the ECB are demanding standards of others which they are nowhere near maintaining themselves. It feels, on this occasion, as if England were looking for reasons to pull out.
There may well be repercussions. Quite apart from the money the PCB have lost here in broadcast revenue, there is also damage to relationships. It is, for example, understood that the PCB will, in the coming weeks, discuss the implications for England's 2022 tour of the country. Put bluntly, there are those involved who feel they can no longer rely on the ECB's commitment. The PCB will therefore discuss cancelling the tour and arranging a replacement who can be relied upon.
To add insult to injury, it is understood that Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, didn't phone Wasim Khan, his counterpart at the PCB, himself. Instead, that uncomfortable task fell to David Mahoney, the ECB's Chief Operating Officer. Harrison, it was explained, was on a flight having missed the first two days of his holiday in an effort to resolve the issue.
The ECB may well find itself short of friends the next time it calls for help. This was to have been a symbolically important tour. England have not visited Pakistan since 2005, after all, so this was an opportunity to thank the country for their assistance in 2020 and celebrate the return of normality to a cricket-loving nation which has been starved of the sport. It should have improved relationships.
Instead it has further demonstrated the divide between the cricket world's haves and have-nots. Instead, it has provided a reminder that the richer cricket boards - and the richer cricket players - do not fully understand (or accept) their wider responsibilities to the game. And, most of all, it has shown the hypocrisy and double-standards which pervade in cricket's most affluent nations.
The ECB has talked a good game on inclusion and diversity in recent months. But here, presented with an opportunity to repay a friend and encourage cricket in a part of the world where it has been missed, they have dropped the ball. And eventually, inclusion is about more than words. It's about putting them into action.
This is a disappointing day for Pakistan, for sure. But a lot of England supporters may be disappointed in the ECB, too.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo