England ready to return a favour and play in Pakistan after 15 years away | Vic Marks | Sport

The likelihood of England’s cricketers participating in a tour of Pakistan for the first time in more than 15 years is now strong. Wasim Khan, the chief executive of the Pakistan Board, sent his invitation on 12 October, which has been welcomed with all the usual provisos by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

However, a situation has been reached where it is very hard to see how the ECB can decline that offer barring unforeseen developments (of which there have, admittedly, been a disturbing number of late).

Wasim, a familiar figure in English cricketing circles, says he is “quietly confident” the tour of three T20 matches, probably beginning in the second week of January, will go ahead. He says no deal was ever made with the ECB after Pakistan’s willingness to come to England in the summer to help minimise the massive losses incurred as a consequence of Covid-19. Instead Wasim stresses: “It is all about relationships and trust and being in constant communication,” which has been evident throughout the past 12 months.

It would be startling if the ECB responded with a blunt: “Sorry. No can do. We are very busy this winter.” Wasim recognises there will have to be stringent Covid and security assessments for the tour to take place but he stresses: “There is a huge will to do this.”

If it happens the tour “will be great for the global game and for cricket in Pakistan” and he points out that recent overseas players, such as Shane Watson, have said that playing there in the Pakistan Super League “feels as safe as anywhere in the world”.

Pakistan, whose capacity to survive and prosper as a cricketing nation despite playing the vast majority of their international matches away from home, surely deserve England’s support.

There are plenty of complications. In addition to the twin impediments of the pandemic and the need to satisfy security concerns there is the problem of England’s packed schedule this winter. Nothing is certain but there is the expectation England’s Test team may be engaged in a two-Test run at Sri Lanka and then another series against India in the United Arab Emirates soon afterwards.

However, the principle of England fielding completely separate teams in white and red-ball cricket was established in the summer of 2020. This can weaken the sides – especially the white-ball one – but it also has the potential to deepen the pool of England cricketers who could play T20 at the highest level.

Another problem may be that some of England’s white-ball players such as Jonny Bairstow, Tom Curran and Liam Livingstone have contracts in the Big Bash, which will be in operation in mid-January. This may be inconvenient for them and the Big Bash teams but it is not an insuperable obstacle.

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Despite the pandemic the best England players do seem to be incredibly busy at the moment. In part they must be driven by the prevailing uncertainty. They cannot be sure what lies ahead in their short careers, so it is understandable they should seize every opportunity to play.

Recent experience suggests Pakistan have successfully provided a secure environment and that any players visiting the country would receive the warmest of welcomes. Actually that has generally been the case. On my first trip there almost four decades ago our hosts were prepared to deliver our evening meals all the way from Lahore to Faisalabad even after Lord Botham had made his comments about holiday destinations and mother-in-laws.

At the start of that tour they looked on benignly as England’s manager, AC Smith, on a moving luggage carousel at Karachi airport, tried to rescue a few cardboard boxes containing alcohol that appeared to be leaking.

England’s last tour to Pakistan was in 2005, when there were already signs of tension over security. In Faisalabad on the second afternoon there was a deafening blast on the boundary edge; play was stopped immediately (which prompted a few pirouettes on the pitch from Shahid Afridi) and the immediate assumption was that this was a serious breach of security. The pessimists started packing their bags ahead of a swift exit from the country. In fact a gas cylinder inside a Coca-Cola dispenser had burst.


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