What was the safety issue and how has England’s decision gone down in Pakistan?

The England and Wales Cricket Board has pulled its men’s and women’s teams out of next month’s planned white-ball tour of Pakistan.

Here the PA news agency looks at why that happened and what it means.

What are we missing?

England's Eoin Morgan during a Twenty20 International match against Pakistan
England’s Eoin Morgan during a Twenty20 International match against Pakistan (Nick Potts/PA)

A little slice of history. England women have never toured Pakistan before and were keen to break new ground, while their male counterparts were due to return to the country for the first time since 2005 following a long absence on security grounds. There were due to be two T20 double headers, with the women’s side staying on for a three-match ODI series.

Are security concerns to blame again?

That was certainly the case last week when the New Zealand men’s team cancelled their own white-ball tour of the country, citing government advice about a “specific and credible” threat against the team. As soon as that happened, England’s visit appeared unlikely but there was no direct reference to safety issues in the ECB announcement. Instead there was a nod towards unease about travelling to the region, a reference to the continued demands of controlled team environments (otherwise known as ‘bubble fatigue’) and even a reference to preparations for the subsequent T20 World Cup.

So there isn’t a specific safety worry?

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, right, has had to make some big decisions
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, right, has had to make some big decisions (Yui Mok/PA)

Without access to the ECB’s own security assessment, that would be impossible to say. What we do know is the tenor of their statement is markedly different to that of New Zealand – and much more broad.

How has the news gone down in Pakistan?

Early indications suggest not well. Pakistan Cricket Board chair Ramiz Raja was quick to post on Twitter, declaring himself “disappointed” in England for letting down a fellow member of the “cricket fraternity”. Birmingham-born CEO Wasim Khan is likely to feel let down too having made it clear in a media conference on Sunday that he hoped and expected the tour to proceed as planned given his understanding of the security set-up. Suffice to say, this was a unilateral call rather than a jointly agreed conclusion.

Could the matches have been moved?

With less than a month’s notice? Not likely. Former England captain Michael Vaughan had suggested the United Arab Emirates as a stand-in host nation but with the Indian Premier League currently taking place there and the T20 World Cup to follow, the pitches probably cannot take much more cricket.

What is the long-term impact for Pakistan?

Herculean amounts of work has been put in to get Pakistan back up and running as a host nation after a long exile that started with the terror attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in 2009. Things were going well, but the withdrawal of New Zealand and England in quick succession poses profound questions over the future. The ECB has already committed to fulfilling its planned Test trip in 2022, but we have already seen how quickly plans can change.

Is the international touring schedule breaking down?

Australia have yet to play a Test abroad since the pandemic began
Australia have yet to play a Test abroad since the pandemic began (Mike Egerton/PA)

After more than 18 months of Covid, the strain is beginning to tell. India walked out on England on the eve of the deciding Test of a flagship series just over a week ago, while England are becoming used to redrawing their schedule after postponing a one-day series in South Africa last December, then shelving a tour to Bangladesh for a later date. Australia, meanwhile, have yet to play an overseas Test since the onset of the pandemic and England’s Ashes trip Down Under is in some doubt pending confirmation of travel requirements. Afghanistan, meanwhile, find their very place on the world stage in doubt following the Taliban’s withdrawal of support for women’s cricket. As it stands, there is precious little to be optimistic about.