Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Australia agree to shorter Pakistan tour

James Sutherland: "This delay will certainly assist us to better assess the post-election situation in Pakistan"...

Australia's tour of Pakistan has been delayed by a month and shortened by 18 days after officials of the two boards met in Kuala Lumpur to thrash out a deal to save the trip. But the players are so concerned about the safety situation in the country, which held elections on Monday, that there are reports individuals may boycott the visit and a second-string side might have to be sent.

Last week the Australian said some players were reluctant to travel to Pakistan and the Herald Sun has quoted an unnamed team source saying: "There is no way the players want to go."

"Nothing has changed," the paper reported a "high-ranking cricket source". "A few weeks isn't going to make much difference here or there. There are a lot of players who will decide not to go. Australia may have to field a second-string side if the tour goes ahead."

The original 48-day itinerary has been culled to 30 and the schedule of three Tests, five one-day internationals and a Twenty20 will be reviewed. Cricket Australia will send a security delegation to Pakistan in early March to assess the venues and security arrangements. A joint statement by the boards said: "Subject to the appropriate security clearance, and by mutual consent, the tour would be compressed and will be played tentatively between March 29 and April 27."

"We were assured that Cricket Australia was committed to touring Pakistan," Shafqat Naghmi, Pakistan's chief operating officer, said after talks in Kuala Lumpur. James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, said Australia "remain committed to tour Pakistan" and " the PCB's preparedness to take a flexible approach to this tour is much appreciated".

"This delay will certainly assist us to better assess the post-election situation in Pakistan," Sutherland said. Last week Pakistan suggested Sri Lanka as an alternative venue if Australia was not content with the security arrangements, and India has also been mentioned as a possible substitute.