| Police officers outside 10, Downing Street. (Reuters)
London, July 28: Despite all the fears of al Qaida-inspired terrorism, the England cricket team will tour Pakistan this winter from October 26 to December 22, it was announced today when the “confirmed itinerary” for three Tests and five one-dayers was released.
Pakistan had wanted a Test and a one-dayer to be played in Karachi or failing that two one-dayers but in the end had to settle for a solitary one-dayer at the National Stadium.
England could scarcely refuse to tour Pakistan on security grounds when it expects Australia to continue to play in the UK at a time when suicide bombers have brought terror to London. And the Australians are more than happy to oblige. “It has always been our intention to go to Pakistan,” Colin Gibson, head of corporate communications at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) told The Telegraph.
He pointed out that England had been the last country to play a Test match in Karachi. The tour would be subject to the usual advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he said.
The confirmation of the tour comes on a day when new security measures were announced for the “Twenty20” final between Surrey and Lancashire at the Oval, where the adjoining Underground station was the site chosen by a would-be suicide bomber on July 21.
This new form of the game is attracting officegoers and families who like to turn up for a short and rollicking contest during a summer evening.
In a day for big cricketing news, the International Cricket Council reminded those who had forgotten that tomorrow will be its last day at Lord’s, where it has been located for nearly a century. From August 1, the ICC will be located in Dubai to take advantage of tax concessions which the British government was unwilling to concede despite heavy lobbying.
It is the attitude of the Australians which is causing much comment among Pakistanis in the UK. They point out that the Australians refused to tour Pakistan in 2002 ' the games were shifted to Sharjah ' but have not spoken of cutting short their current tour of England.
“I was at Lord’s during the Ashes Test when the incident occurred at Warren Street which is not so far away,” commented a Pakistani journalist. “Nothing happened at Lord’s ' the game just carried on.”
The journalist said that in Pakistan, the England players would be safer because “they would be surrounded by hundreds of security people but here anything could happen to anyone. In Karachi, the violence, though regrettable, is sectarian. It’s Shia versus Sunni and there won’t be Shias and Sunnis in the England cricket team.”
Whatever the politics, the dates for the tour have been confirmed. The ECB said the schedule includes three Test matches in Multan, Faisalabad and Lahore and a total of five one day internationals in Lahore (2), Karachi and Rawalpindi (2).
John Carr, the ECB’s director of cricket operations, left himself a little loop hole when he said in a statement: “The ECB have agreed to the itinerary proposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board. As is the case for all England tours, this agreement is subject to on-going advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our own security advisers that all venues are acceptably safe to visit. The safety and security of the tour party, travelling media and supporters is a top priority on any England tour and the tour to Pakistan is no exception.”
He added: “Along with our security consultants we will continue to monitor the situation and will, after the conclusion of the npower Ashes Test series, meet the players and team management to update them on the situation.”The cricketing schedule in Britain has so far not been affected by terrorism. But spectators were today advised to arrive at the Oval in good time due to the need for extra security searches. Oval Underground station is now open.“As happened for the one-day internationals, there will be full bag, personal and vehicle inspections upon arrival,” said a spokesman.