Champions Trophy: England to pull out of Pakistan trip as relations hit new low
Sunday 24 August 2008
A meaningless tele-conference will take place this morning, at the end of which world cricket will again be reeling towards disaster. Whatever is decided, the Champions Trophy in Pakistan will not proceed as planned.
Whatever promises are made, security imposed, undertakings given, at least four countries will refuse to play if the International Cricket Council decide that the tournament must take place in the beleaguered country.
South Africa have already pulled out and although England have made no formal declaration they must know they will have no other option because their players will refuse to travel. Australia have not played in Pakistan since 1998 and there is no reason for them to return now. New Zealand, haunted by previous experiences of bombings, were always reluctant travellers and now they will not be travelling at all.
Yet even yesterday, India were insisting that they would continue to support Pakistan as hosts. The ICC's members have only themselves to blame. They voted as recently as last month to keep the competition where it was when it was perfectly obvious that players did not wish to go and that the country was in a state of instability.
Pakistan have assured players that the security will be at presidential level. To which the players have reasonably responded that if such restrictions are needed, there might indeed be a risk. Many have opined that cricketers have never been targeted and would be safe. It is not an argument that seems to have much substance at present.
The repercussions of today's decision are potentially cataclysmic. The ICC may try to proceed with an emasculated tournament in Pakistan. They may try to stage it elsewhere although the appetite for that does not appear to exist. Sri Lanka are the official reserves but the organisation necessary in such a short time may be too difficult. Or they may cancel the competition, meaning they would have to repay millions of dollars to ESPN, the television rights holders.
The effect on the World Twenty20 in England next year, other tournaments and Test series could be catastrophic. Trust between countries is at an all-time low. India have plenty of power but no respect: they are ruling by fear. But England too have few friends.
The ICC have been hope-lessly ineffective: their new chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, has failed to convince players they should travel to Pakistan; their new president, David Morgan, has been conspicuously silent so far. His presidency would be elevated if he were to tell it like it is after today's events.
Ultimately, money may talk. The Champions Trophy, for all its confused and confusing status as the mini-World Cup, makes plenty of it. Pakistan could be left high and dry, as they should have been months ago. The Champions Trophy in England anyone?
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