Australia scrap Pakistan cricket tour amid violence

Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2008, 20:03 [IST]
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Australian cricket chiefs announced Tuesday that they had scrapped their upcoming tour of Pakistan, on the day two bombs tore through one of the cities where they had been due to play.

The tour, originally due to begin on March 29, had been in doubt for months amid questions about the level of security they would be assured in Pakistan, which has seen six major blasts since elections nearly a month ago.

Cricket Australia (CA) called it a postponement and said they hoped to fix new dates "in the near future."

But it will not be this year, with CA chief executive James Sutherland telling reporters in Melbourne that there were "a couple of windows" in 2009 and 2010 when the tour may be able to proceed.

"We wish no loss to Pakistan Cricket Board and look forward to undertaking this tour in the near future," CA chairman Creagh O'Connor said in a statement after Pakistani officials earlier announced it had been cancelled.

Sutherland said CA had little choice but to postpone the tour until the security situation in Pakistan "settled down".

"Right now, it's not appropriate for us to be playing cricket in Pakistan," he said.

He added CA acted on advice from the Australian government and its own advisers.

"Our absolute priority has been the security and safety of our players and our employees," Sutherland said. "We've left no stone unturned, we wanted to play this tour."

The announcement came as two bombs ripped through the offices of a federal police agency and an advertising company in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 20 people.

The Australian government, which has a travel advisory warning citizens against visiting Pakistan, welcomed the move, with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith portraying it as a joint decision between CA and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

"The agreement reached between the two boards is a welcome outcome in light of the uncertainty surrounding the tour," he said.

But Pakistan coach and former Australian Test bowler Geoff Lawson was scathing about the decision, saying the dangers of visiting Pakistan had been overstated in the West.

"I think the Australians should have come here full steam ahead," he told Australian Associated Press from Karachi. "Bombs do go off. You can't argue with that.

"But they're focused on particular targets that have nothing to do with sport, and particularly nothing to do with cricket."

CA and the PCB said in a joint statement that officials from both countries would meet in Dubai next weekend to discuss possible new dates.

Minnows Bangladesh later agreed to step into the breach and tour Pakistan in April.

"We have accepted Pakistan's proposal to play five one-day matches and a Twenty20 match in Pakistan in April," Bangladesh Cricket Board official Gazi Ashaf Hossain Lipu said in Dhaka, adding dates remained to be fixed.

Pakistan has been combating an Islamist insurgency since President Pervez Musharraf joined the US-led "war on terror" in 2001.

However, the violence has soared in the past few months. Around 600 people have died since the start of this year in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and clashes, mainly along the Afghan border in troubled northwestern Pakistan but also in major cities such as Lahore.

PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf said Pakistan was saddened by the decision.

"We are obviously very disappointed at this decision. I guess there is not much we could do and sincerely hope that the tour of Australia to Pakistan can materialise at the earliest opportunity," Ashraf said.

Several Australian players, including all-rounder Andrew Symonds and paceman Brett Lee had expressed reservations about touring the troubled country.

Sutherland denied player pressure was behind the decision saying the tour would have proceeded if security assessments had deemed it safe.

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