England must decide today whether to protect the lives of their players, or the size of their balance sheet. If they withdraw from the Champions Trophy in Pakistan next month they face the distinct likelihood of a boycott of the lucrative and prestigious World Twenty20 due to be held in this country next summer.
The dilemma will not be easily resolved – and certainly not before the difficult contortion of arm-twisting followed by hand-wringing – and is complicated by the fact that a split in world cricket might immediately ensue. The England and Wales Cricket Board will debate the issues today after a task force from the International Cricket Council attempt to persuade them of the merits of participating in the competition.
This will be conducted against the ludicrous backdrop of the game's administration falling apart in Pakistan. With only four weeks to go before the scheduled start of the trophy, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Nasim Ashraf, resigned yesterday after the resignation of the country's President Pervez Musharraf, who had effectively been his patron. Under Ashraf, the PCB has been in a perpetual state of disarray.
There is no desire to visit Pakistan at present either by England's players, who have already made their feelings clear, or administrators who would gladly have pulled out but for the 2009 event. But England have to be careful not to become isolated, a manoeuvre they have not managed successfully often of late.
Players from Australia and New Zealand have also expressed their deep reluctance to make the trip and did not seem converted by ICC arguments last week. Nor are South Africa's cricketers, expected to hear from the ICC later this week, exactly enthused. They might find themselves at odds with their board. But it is entirely possible that the players of all nations may have the final say.
The hand of India is as usual stirring the pot and Australia's stance may be clouded by their recent alliance with the game's economic powerhouse. They have made unseemly bedfellows in setting up the Twenty20 Champions League for club sides, snubbing England, and since India have no intention of withdrawing from the Champions Trophy, Australia may feel inclined to follow their leader.
If they support a boycott, however, the chances of a harmful ICC division along racial lines is possible. Should the Champions Trophy not proceed, the repercussions for the World Twenty20 may be stark, with Pakistan and India refusing to attend. England would lose cash and face in equal abundance.
The ICC, whose leadership has so far been lacking, may have to repay millions of its television deal. They were continuing as normal yesterday, carrying out a long-planned venue inspection in Lahore. It is now accepted that the date for moving the tournament to another country, probably Sri Lanka, has passed.
Whatever England decide, the Champions Trophy will be disastrous because the stadiums will be empty and nobody wants to play it. The Foreign Office advice yesterday on visiting Pakistan was unchanged: "There is reliable evidence that terrorists continue to target Western, including British, interests and individuals throughout Pakistan."