Cricket Australia’s (CA) decision to pull out of the tour of Pakistan will have pleased Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and their mates in baggy green, but it’s caused yet another headache for cricket’s governing body which has been under siege for most of the summer.

Having cited security concerns as the reason for cancelling the tour, CA now has to convince the Pakistan Cricket Board that it’s serious about going at all – at any time. Mark Taylor was Australian captain last time the team toured Pakistan in October 1998.

In 2002, a proposed Pakistan tour was moved to neutral territory in Sharjah in the UAE following the September 11 calamity and fears of a terrorist attack. Now that CA has turned its back on Pakistan again, the suspicion is that the world’s best cricket team will never return to a country that suffers its fair share of political instability and violence.

Former Australian fast bowler and Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson did his bit to alay fears. “This is how worried I am about it — I’m off to play golf near there right now,” Lawson told The Age. “Yes, it is only 10 minutes away, but it is a military target that is nowhere near civilians and I don’t feel any less safe. But I fear that is not how it will play out at Cricket Australia headquarters.” Though you might argue he was doing the right thing by his employers, whom The Age reports stand to lose “between $5 million and $7 million in lost television, gate and sponsorship revenue if Australia stays home.”

CA takes its security responsibility seriously and it has solid procedures to follow in establishing the safety of its touring teams. You only have to look at DFAT’S travel advisory on Pakistan to understand why they were reluctant to go:

  • We strongly advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Pakistan at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, sectarian violence and the unpredictable security situation.
  • Parliamentary elections were held on 18 February 2008. In the two weeks leading up to polling day, election-related violence resulted in over 100 deaths, including in suicide and other terrorist attacks.
  • We continue to receive a stream of credible reports indicating terrorists are in the advanced stages of planning attacks. These attacks could target Western or Australian interests and individuals and places frequented by foreigners and could occur at any time.
  • Credible reporting indicates potential terrorist threats against Western hotels in Islamabad and Islamabad supermarkets frequented by Western diplomats.

And so on. Any player looking this up on the net had every right to feel uneasy, despite assurances that they would be afforded the highest protection. Benazir Bhutto’s murder and a string of recent terrorist attacks including the recent bombing in Lahore, which killed 20, made the decision easy for CA.

It also meant CA avoided a potentially damaging showdown with its contracted players. At the same time as an IPL team was paying well over a million dollars for his services, Andrew Symonds made it quite clear he wasn’t going regardless of CA’s advice. He wasn’t alone. Yesterday I spoke with Paul Marsh, CEO of the Australian Cricketers’ Association, who confirmed that a majority of players were strongly considering standing down from the tour in the event that it went ahead.

This would have put them in direct breach of contract and further widened the rift between the players and their controlling body, who they feel let them down badly during the whole Harbhajan affair.

Whilst the tour is cancelled (and a postponement is nonsense as re-scheduling the tour in such a crowded cricket calendar is virtually impossible), those contracted for duty in India’s new cricket circus will be hoping to make big bucks whilst the bombs are going off just across the border. That is, if they can squeeze in a visit before they’re called into camp for the West Indies tour in May.

Not a word of concern about touring that country though. Not a mention of the 42 people killed in a terrorist attack in Hyderabad in August last year, for instance. Not a word about DFAT’s concern about travel to India, either. Not a worry in the world.

Some risks are worth taking it seems – if the price is right.

Peter Fray

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