England have withdrawn from their joint men’s and women’s tour of Pakistan next month, citing concerns over the “mental and physical well-being” of their party and drawing an angry response from their would-be hosts.
The historic limited-overs trip to Rawalpindi, which would have been the first ever by an England women’s team and the first by their male counterparts since 2005, was under doubt following New Zealand’s hasty departure from the country on Friday.
While the Black Caps pulled out after what they called a “specific and credible” threat to their team, and following intervention from the New Zealand government, the England and Wales Cricket Board appeared to indicate a more general unease around the visit had caused it to back out.
In a statement announcing the decision, the ECB referenced “increasing concerns about travelling to the region”, the amount of time players had spent in restricted environments and preparations for the subsequent Twenty20 World Cup.
There was also an apology to Pakistan and a renewed commitment to complete a full Test tour in 2022, but the initial reaction from their end suggests there are now considerable bridges to rebuild.
The white-ball tour had been arranged in part as an expression of gratitude for Pakistan’s decision to help save England’s international summer last year, by travelling at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
PCB chair Ramiz Raja took to Twitter shortly after the announcement, writing: “Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment and failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most. Survive we will inshallah. A wake-up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.”
Speaking to BBC World Service, Ramiz was more forceful.
He said: “It’s absurd. We have gone out of our way to accommodate international sides.
“I’m extremely disappointed and so are the fans. Right now, we needed England.
“It’s a small cricket fraternity that we have. We were expecting England to be a little bit more responsible. We are hurt, but forward we shall move.”
Ramiz said Pakistan felt “slighted” by the withdrawals of England and New Zealand.
He added: “When Pakistan needed the Western bloc, they have not supported us.
“Security can be an issue anywhere in the world. We feel slighted by the way things have been handled by the Western bloc.
“They can quote mental fatigue, but that is not good enough.”
The ECB statement was a longer exercise in rhetoric that is unlikely to dampen any frustration or force the PCB’s Birmingham-born chief executive Wasim Khan to reassess the views he relayed on Sunday evening.
During a conference call with reporters he stressed his hope and belief that England would fulfil their schedule, indicating that the most recent security assessments offered no reason to cancel.
“Earlier this year, we agreed to play two additional T20 World Cup warm-up games in Pakistan in October, adding a short women’s tour with double headers alongside the men’s games,” the ECB statement continued.
“The ECB board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England women’s and men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip.
“The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in.
“We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region and believe that going ahead will add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted Covid environments.
“There is the added complexity for our men’s T20 squad. We believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the ICC men’s T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021.”
There was a note of contrition too, with the statement concluding: “We understand that this decision will be a significant disappointment to the PCB, who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country.
“Their support of English and Welsh cricket over the last two summers has been a huge demonstration of friendship. We are sincerely sorry for the impact this will have on cricket in Pakistan and emphasise an ongoing commitment to our main touring plans there for 2022.”
Clare Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket, told ESPNCricinfo: “It’s hugely sad. We’ve had lots of meetings over the last few days, with everything that has been going on in that part of the world, and it’s desperately sad for Pakistan cricket and for the fans in that part of the world who are desperate to support their players and see live cricket in their country.
“It’s very disappointing – our players were excited about the prospect of a historic tour for England women to Pakistan and to take international women’s cricket to that part of the world would have been something they were very much looking forward to and would have been proud of, but it’s not to be.”
England had already agreed to postpone a separate tour of Bangladesh, also initially scheduled for October, and pulled out of a one-day series in South Africa in December due to mental health concerns surrounding a Covid outbreak.
They were on the other side of things earlier this month when India decided they were unable to play the fifth Test at Emirates Old Trafford following positive cases in their camp.
In sum, the international calendar is buckling in a variety of pressure points as the strains of playing through a pandemic and the uncertain security status in some regions begin to tell.