England Cricket Board officials have visited Pakistan in an important step towards England restoring overseas tours of the country.
Chief executive Tom Harrison, security advisor Reg Dickason and ECB board director Martin Darlow, a former senior police detective now with a security and integrity brief, were part of a fact-finding mission alongside officials from Cricket Ireland to see the state of play during the Pakistan v Sri Lanka T20I series in Lahore.
The ECB’s warm relations with the PCB managing director, Wasim Khan, a British Pakistani who played for Warwickshire and Sussex in the 1990s before heading up Chance to Shine and becoming chief executive of Leicestershire, eased this trip.
ECB officials landed on Tuesday morning in Islamabad, then flew overnight to Lahore for meetings all day with PCB officials, before watching a T20I at the Gaddafi Stadium.
England are not scheduled to play Pakistan away until late 2022, so there is some breathing space for the ECB until deciding if they can clear their players to go to Pakistan. If not, the series looks likely to place in the UAE again, as most of Pakistan’s recent series have.
At the moment England are committed through the Future Tours Program to play three Tests and five ODIs against Pakistan in late 2022, leading into the 2023 World Cup in India the following February.
The Pakistan Cricket Board have managed to persuade only Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka (twice) to play ODIs and T20Is on Pakistani soil since the 2009 Lahore attack on the Sri Lanka team bus. There was also a World XI visit in 2017/18, and the Pakistan Super League has flown players in from the UAE, including English players like Dawid Malan and Chris Jordan.
This time Sri Lanka played ODIs in Karachi and T20Is in Lahore, winning that series. But, for richer, very security-conscious boards like the ECB and Cricket Australia, who are less dependent on TV money than Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka, there are a number of security or corruption hurdles that have to be satisfied.
Pakistan have played no Tests at home since that hastily aborted 2009 Test, and if England do play in Pakistan in 2022, it seems likelier at this point to be for white-ball matches, as the practicalities of policing a four or five-day match have not yet been tested.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Chief Executive Tom Harrison says he was impressed with the security measures taken by Pakistan authorities to host international cricket events.
“We had a real look at the incredible work that is going on in Lahore with the Safe City Project and the extraordinary reaction to past incidents that has been put in place here. And that’s been incredibly impressive,” said Harrison while talking to PCB podcast.
“Now we need to take all that information home and start building towards a plan to put in place over the next few years to make it safe for us to consider coming here and fulfilling that obligation in the second half of 2022.”
Harrison told the PCB podcast: “This is really an important trip for us. We were invited by the PCB to come and look at the security provisions that are put in place to host big cricket international events.”
And, it is very important for us to see that first-hand, to meet key players in that security team, all of the decision-makers and work-out the steps that we need to take to assess the viability of an England tour of Pakistan in the future. So, that’s really the objective as a first step. And that’s been a very valuable exercise for us to undertake and we have learnt a lot for being here first-hand, Harrison said.
“Obviously, we have got a bit of time and that’s really important for us. We have been liaising with all of the right people over here, whether that is our High Commission in Islamabad, whether it is the director of security or ministry of interior and all of the various police forces.
“In an ideal world, which we don’t live in, obviously we want major cricketing nations to be playing most of their cricket or lot of their cricket at home. It’s really important.”
International cricket has got such a wonderful opportunity, it’s such a wonderful sport. We have seen the popularity of the game, I feel, that it is a growing sport globally. So, it is really important that the international cricket community comes together and provides the foundation and opportunities for everyone to play at home.
“Actually, international cricket is quite good at that. I think we do take good care of one another. And that is really important because for us to be able to compete with all of the different choices the young people, the adults have got to spend their spare time, we need to make sure that cricket is right in the forefront of their minds.
“We take the opportunity to put cricket on the map wherever we can. The one thing I have to add to that is conditions have to be right.”
Talking about the upcoming Pakistan’s tour of England in 2020 the ECB Chief Executive said: “We love hosting Pakistan. It’s been fun to see the engagement of our English cricket community with the Pakistan cricket team, particularly in the short format.”
“The Pakistan cricket team has added so much colour, vibrancy and atmosphere to our summers over the last few years. It will look modest without Pakistan visiting.”
Pakistan is scheduled to play three World Test Championship Tests and three T20Is against England.