A member of the Police Elite Force stands guard at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, after the New Zealand cricket team pulled out of a Pakistan cricket tour over security concerns, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan September 17 2021. Picture: REUTERS/WASEEM KHAN
A member of the Police Elite Force stands guard at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, after the New Zealand cricket team pulled out of a Pakistan cricket tour over security concerns, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan September 17 2021. Picture: REUTERS/WASEEM KHAN

After a decade spent trying to woo back cricket’s international elite, Pakistan is facing the prospect of being declared the game’s no-go area again, and the anger is palpable.

A sense of déjà vu swept the country on Friday when New Zealand abruptly pulled the plug on their first Pakistan tour in 18 years, citing a security alert. With England’s board yet to make up its mind about what would be their first visit to the country in 16 years in October, Pakistan’s bumper home season looks in disarray.

It is a huge setback for the cricket-mad nation, which moved heaven and earth to project itself as a safe destination and won tour commitments from several leading teams.

“It’s been pretty gut-wrenching,” Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) CEO Wasim Khan said on Sunday. “We’ve done a huge amount of work in building our credibility back up again in world cricket. The rug has been pulled out from under our feet as quick as that.”

Cricket Australia said it is monitoring the situation and will “talk with the relevant authorities once more information becomes known” ahead of its scheduled tour early in early 2022.

Cricket West Indies did not reply to an email from Reuters asking if they would reconsider their tour of Pakistan later this year, but the atmosphere is not promising.

“The abrupt departure of New Zealand has left many scars for us, and we just certainly hope that this is not going to have long-term consequences for us moving forward,” said Khan.

With the Taliban sweeping to power in neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan will have to work extra hard to try to convince other teams to tour the country.

Shunned by all after the deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore, Pakistan’s “home” matches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been played without fan support and earned the PCB little in the way of revenue. Pakistan has no plans to again move home games offshore, said Khan.

Test cricket returned to the country when Sri Lanka toured in 2019, but the PCB officials know the country will be deemed safe only when the likes of England and Australia tour.

In recent times, teams touring Pakistan were accorded the kind of security usually reserved for visiting heads of state and the cricket establishment wonders what else they could have done.

“NZ just killed Pakistan cricket,” tweeted former Test bowler Shoaib Akhtar, while angry fans demanded Pakistan boycott October’s Twenty20 World Cup match against New Zealand.

The PCB has ruled out that prospect but is infuriated at New Zealand’s refusal to share the exact nature of the threat that derailed the tour.

“It sets a very dangerous precedent if countries can unilaterally just abandon tours. Then it does affect relationships. Where does it leave us as a sport?” Khan asked.

The PCB official said he would be making a broader point at the International Cricket Council (ICC), seeking to end the “inequality” within the governing body.

“Inequality exists, and I don’t care what people say,” Khan asserted. “It’s easy to walk out of countries like Pakistan without any reason, without any dialogue, without any discussion. That has to stop, because the inequality has to stop in the world of cricket.”

The players are already dreading the prospect of having to resume playing their “home” games abroad, but Khan said the PCB will not go down without a fight.

“As it stands at the moment, we have no plans to go abroad to play our cricket,” Khan said. “It’s taken us a long time to return. We are adamant that we remain safe but of course we’ve also got to have contingency and backups.”

Reuters

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