Pakistan may play in Australia, not at neutral venue


Sydney : Pakistan would be willing to play in Australia if the scheduled tour to the subcontinent nation in March is scrapped because of security fears, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported.

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While the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) would only consider the move in a “worst-case scenario”, the revelation gives renewed hope that the series would be played regardless of the fallout of Pakistan’s general election on Feb 18.

Cricket Australia (CA) is investigating whether players and officials would be safe to tour after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto late last month, which has been followed by two deadly terrorist attacks in the past fortnight.

A senior Pakistan board member said if CA deemed the tour hazardous, they would discuss switching the schedule to play the series here — although with the football seasons underway in March, finding available venues to host the matches would pose immediate problems for administrators.

In return for touring here this year, Pakistan would have Ricky Ponting’s side visit in November next year, when Pakistan are due to travel to Australia. A series at a neutral venue would not take place, the PCB official said.

“It is only the last resort, only a worst-case scenario, but if something happens and Australia can’t come, then the board will discuss playing the series in Australia,” he told the Herald on the condition of anonymity.

“If worst comes to worst, then perhaps [playing in Australia] is a better idea, as long as we swap. That would be an acceptable scenario. I would like the Pakistani spectators to watch Australia in their own stadiums, now or next year. But the first priority is that Australia comes here.

“A neutral venue is out. It doesn’t help anybody to play at a neutral venue, if it is played in a third country those spectators wouldn’t be interested, and we would rather entertain Australian crowds than fans from other countries.”

A decision on the tour will be made by CA in three weeks, and if it is cancelled, there will be problems arranging games in Australia with the football codes kicking off in March.

Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are loaded with NRL and AFL matches that month. Already there is another possible clash in the works, with St George-Illawarra and Wests Tigers due to play in the opening round of the NRL at the SCG on March 16, while the NSW cricket team could be hosting the final of the Pura Cup at the venue on the same day.

The AFL starts on March 20, a Thursday, with a game at the MCG, and there are two more games at the ground the following weekend.

Australia are slated to play three Tests, five one-dayers and a Twenty20 game against Pakistan and, if CA agrees to shifting the tour, those matches would likely need to be shared around Test venues that already have football commitments.

The WACA Ground may be free, as might Canberra’s Manuka Oval. It’s hardly ideal, but still an option given the unpredictability at present in Pakistan, where Bhutto’s death has created a combustible environment.

The process being used to evaluate the situation is identical to that used before Australia cancelled their Pakistan tour in 2002, and includes discussions with the host cricket board and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“We are going through a very careful process which is devised to give us dispassionate, independent, and expert advice,” spokesperson Peter Young said. “We are anxious not to expose our players and support staff to any danger.”

The Zimbabwe cricket team has been in Pakistan since Jan 12 and has continued playing a series without security issues thus far, and the PCB official urged Australia to view their tour as a “litmus test”.