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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Explained: Can Pakistan take on England, New Zealand at ICC without India’s support?

The power structure at the ICC has changed now. India is at the top of the pyramid by dint of its commercial might, with England and Australia in company.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: September 23, 2021 3:34:23 pm
Pakistani police officers observes area next to portraits of Pakistani cricketer from an enclosure of the Pindi Cricket Stadium before the stat of the first one day international cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Pindi Cricket Stadium, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP Photo)

The British government has distanced itself from the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) decision to cancel the cricket tour to Pakistan. This comes after Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ramiz Raja, smarting over the second cancellation of a home series in just a few days, directed his ire towards the “Western bloc”.

Earlier, when New Zealand had pulled out of the tour on the day of the first One-Day International, Raja had tweeted: “Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared!! Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC.”

But without India’s support, Pakistan’s efforts could be seriously crippled. The erstwhile Asian bloc that had knocked England and Australia off their perch in the International Cricket Council (ICC), no longer exists. The PCB, now, will seemingly have to play a lone ranger in the world body.

What has been the British government’s take on the cancellation?

On Tuesday, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner posted a video message on Twitter, with a caption: “Aakhir mein jeet cricket ki hogee (at the end, cricket will be the winner)”. In his message, Turner said: “This was a decision made by the ECB, which is independent of the British government, based on concerns for player welfare. The British High Commission supported the tour, did not advise against it on security grounds; and our travel advice for Pakistan has not changed.”

What is the official reason for calling off the tour?

The ECB cited “mental and physical well-being” of the cricketers and support staff as a reason for cancellation. Nowhere in its press release was there a mention of security threats. “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,” the ECB statement said.

Why is PCB alleging double standards?

When Pakistan players travelled to England last year for three Tests and as many T20Is, the Covid infection rates in the UK were among the highest in the world. The players stayed in strict bio-bubbles and didn’t have the opportunity to be accompanied by their family members. A short limited-overs series in Pakistan was what the PCB wanted in return. “A little bit of hand-holding, a little bit of caring was needed after New Zealand’s pullout and we didn’t get that from England which is so frustrating. It’s the feeling of being used and then binned.” Raja told reporters on Tuesday.

Pakistan paramilitary troops and police officer stand guard outside the Pindi Cricket Stadium following canceling of 1st one day international cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP Photo)

The ECB’s decision hasn’t gone down well with former England players either. “If security advice is the reason for the cancellation, that would be totally understandable, but to cite Covid fatigue, effectively, is to have a short memory of what touring teams, not least Pakistan, went through in England last summer at the height of the pandemic, so helping to save the professional game from financial catastrophe,” former England captain Mike Atherton wrote in his The Times column.

Meanwhile, Pakistan information minister Fawad Chaudhry has alleged that the threat that prompt the Kiwis to cancel their tour emanated from India.

“The email was sent from an associated device in India using VPN, showing IP address location of Singapore,” Chaudhry claimed.

He added that an email to New Zealand batsman Martin Guptill’s wife with threats to his life was also sent from an account registered in India.

What transpired in the conversation between PCB and ECB?

Raja revealed at a virtual press conference on Tuesday that during his conversation with his ECB counterpart Ian Watmore, the latter spoke about the England players being “spooked” following New Zealand’s withdrawal. “I told him, ‘They don’t get spooked while coming to play in the PSL (Pakistan Super League) or when they go to our neighbouring country (read, India). So does it mean England’s cricket tours are linked to power and commercial opportunities’? One feels slighted, one feels humiliated because the withdrawal doesn’t have an answer,” the PCB chairman said.

Can Pakistan take on the ‘Western bloc’ at the ICC without India?

In the present context, without India’s support, they have no chance. On the face of it, Raja’s vow to not play home matches at a neutral venue looks untenable, for it will further isolate Pakistan cricket-wise. For years, foreign teams avoided Pakistan after the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. For close to a decade, PCB made the United Arab Emirates its adopted home. Raja has spoken about making Pakistan’s cricket economy big and lucrative enough for foreign teams to drop in at every available opportunity. But that will take time and without bilateral series against India, they have limited options.

What is PCB’s position in the ICC?

At the 1996 World Cup, when Australia and West Indies had declined to go to Sri Lanka citing LTTE threats, former BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya sent a joint India-Pakistan team to the island nation before the start of the tournament to convince the cricket world that the country was safe. India and Pakistan joined hands after the 1983 World Cup to break the hegemony of England and Australia at the ICC and end their veto power. That was then; a thriving Asian bloc led by India holding sway.

The power structure at the ICC has changed now. India is at the top of the pyramid by dint of its commercial might, with England and Australia in company. They are the unofficial Big Three in cricket, having a close rapport with New Zealand Cricket (NZC). At a personal level, the BCCI officials are still on good terms with their PCB counterparts, but the relationship between the two boards has soured, through the cancellation of bilateral series and the PCB taking the BCCI to arbitration over cancelled tours. In the present political situation, an India-Pakistan alliance at the ICC appears unthinkable, which weakens the PCB in their proposed fight against the ‘Western bloc’. The BCCI, on the other hand, enjoys strong relationships with the ECB, Cricket Australia and NZC at the moment, the cancelled fifth Test at Old Trafford notwithstanding.

How much will PCB lose from the twin cancellations?

The rough estimate is about $25 million. Raja has threatened that New Zealand would “hear” from the PCB at the ICC. Yes, the PCB can take the matter before the ICC’s Disputes Resolution Panel, but Pakistan’s scheduled three-match home ODI series wasn’t under the umbrella of the global body’s World Cup Super League, for it didn’t have DRS. This legally weakens the PCB’s case. “We have already launched an inquiry (into the DRS omission),” Raja said.

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