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A Tale of Two Tours

At the time of writing, it is uncertain whether Australia’s tour of Pakistan will go ahead, while Bangladesh’s tour Down Under has been postponed due to its clashing with the Beijing Olympics.

The reaction to the Pakistan issue has been mixed, to say the least. On the one hand, Cricket Australia and the players have expressed concerns regarding security in the wake of the recent elections and the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto late in 2007. Pakistan, understandably anxious to have the tour progress, has requested that Australia review the situation in a few weeks, in the hope that the schedule can be maintained, even if in an abbreviated format.

Looming large in the background of any discussions on the issue is the fact that the lucrative Indian Premier League will be played at the same time as the proposed tour. Whilst a number of concerns in relation to the Pakistan tour were expressed before the IPL contracts were formalised, to some of the cricketing public it appears that the players are prepared to ignore a previous commitment to the national team in order to fill their boots. For his part, Andrew Symonds stated that he will not go to Pakistan under any circumstances. It was not lost on many that he made that pronouncement in the hours leading up to the IPL player auction.

CA happily sent the Australia A side to Pakistan late last year, whilst South Africa toured there as recently as October 2007 and West Indies in December 2006. India, a country involved in a long-running border dispute with Pakistan, toured in late 2005 to early 2006.

In 2005, terrorists detonated bombs on the London Underground while Australia was playing in England. At no time was it seriously suggested by CA that the tour would not go ahead, despite Jason Gillespie’s ruminations on the issue. People are asking, legitimately, “What has changed”?

To put it mildly, for Cricket Australia a public relations nightmare is in the offing if the tour does not go ahead and the players then traipse across to India to pick up big money in a hit and giggle form of the game.

Meanwhile, CA has announced that Bangladesh’s tour to Australia has been postponed, because its initial scheduling clashed with the Beijing Olympics. Curiously, there has been no where near the media attention paid to this announcement.

Beijing won the rights to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001, whilst the dates for the Games have similarly been set for years. To suggest that CA has suddenly opened its diary and discovered this clash is laughable. Moreover, cricket has not been introduced to the Olympics as an exhibition sport, and there are no suggestions that players from either side are a chance of medalling in the Decathlon. There seems little doubt then that the decision has been made purely on financial grounds.

The problem with the decision on the Bangladesh tour is that, at this stage of their development, the visitors will not be big drawcards irrespective of when the tour is scheduled. With any Bangladeshi tour likely to take place in Australia’s northern states in the winter months, the tour will always be overshadowed by other sporting events, such as local and interstate football codes, which will be in full swing. That being so, why shouldn’t the tour go ahead, in the interests of developing the international game?

To be fair, Cricket Australia finds itself in an invidious position. It must look after the interests of its employees, but it has a wider duty to cricket. Barring an unforeseen and unwanted escalation in civil disturbance in Pakistan, the tour should go ahead. If individual players do not want to go, they can pull out. If they do so, CA should take steps to prohibit them from playing in the IPL while their countrymen bat on, to the extent that they are legally able to do so.

Cricket in Australia is alive and well, but that is not the case everywhere. The success of the Australian side has resulted in big local crowds over the past few seasons, for Tests, ODIs and more recently Twenty20 matches. Given how well the game is travelling, is it too much to ask that CA honour its obligations to its fellow ICC members by both touring Pakistan and hosting a nation in Bangladesh which is still in the formative stages of its development in the international game?

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