Pakistan v England: Aatif Nawaz on England's withdrawal from upcoming Twenty20 tour

By Aatif NawazActor, comedian, Test Match Special commentator
England v Pakistan T20 from 2020 summer
Pakistan's men toured England earlier this year, playing three one-day internationals and three Twenty20s

Aatif Nawaz is a Test Match Special commentator as well as a comedian, writer and actor. Here he reveals the depth of feeling among Pakistan cricket fans about England's decision not to play in the upcoming tour.

Heartbroken, disappointed and betrayed.

It's been more than 24 hours since news of England pulling out next month's tour to Pakistan was announced, but these are three words I'd still use to describe how I feel.

First New Zealand's men cancelled their tour of Pakistan because of a "specific and credible threat", then just four days later England also withdrew.

England's men were to play Pakistan in two Twenty20s on 13 and 14 October in Rawalpindi, that were also double-headers with the women.

The women were then due to play one-day internationals on 17, 19 and 21 October.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) did not focus their reasoning on a credible threat.

Their statement, which I personally think was quite vague, said there were "increasing concerns about travelling to the region" and "that going ahead will add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted Covid environments."

Meanwhile Christian Turner, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, has released a Twitter video saying 'the British High Commission supported the tour, did not advise against it on security grounds'.

I thought after a day I would calm down and look at things more objectively - or maybe I'd see England's perspective. But I really don't.

England should have toured Pakistan and, in my opinion, it was a selfish decision not to do so.

'England could have been Pakistan's knight in shining armour'

England women v Pakistan women at the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup
England's women have never toured Pakistan and the teams last met in a T20 at the World Cup in 2020.

Let's start with the men's team.

New Zealand pulled out at the 11th hour, leaving Pakistan like a jilted lover.

The same thing just happened to England two weeks ago when the Indian team pulled the plug on the Old Trafford Test at the 11th hour.

The ECB should know better than anyone how that feels and should have responded in in a more gracious and understanding way.

They had this wonderful opportunity to be the knight in shining armour for Pakistan, but they opted not to take it.

England's statement said "we believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the T20 World Cup".

But you're playing one of the best teams in the world, against players like Shaheen Shah Afridi and Babar Azam ahead of a T20 World Cup. Is that not ideal preparation?

'Pakistan needed you'

I understand the impact touring can have on players' mental health and wellbeing and I would never minimise mental health which is a very serious thing, but what about the mental health of the Pakistani players who spent nearly three months in isolation in England last year?

The West Indies and Pakistan came to England's rescue when they needed them.

They spent three months in quarantine in the most difficult of scenarios and played England - and did them that favour.

The ECB were so proud of it on social media and saying thank you to Pakistan, that they would appreciate it.

There was even an emoji of fist bumps. Well, where is that fist when Pakistan needed you right now?

And with the England women's first-ever tour to Pakistan, it would have been just so historic.

Women's cricket is a huge thing in Pakistan.

There were more people excited about this series than the men's because they understood what it meant and what a powerful statement it would have been to see England and Pakistan's women playing.

With a Women's World Cup next year, again, how is the series not ideal preparation?

'My sympathies are with the Pakistani fans'

Fans peer through a fence
Fans tried all they could to get a better vantage point of play when Test cricket returned to Pakistan in 2019

I was in Pakistan when Sri Lanka toured in December 2019.

It was the first Test in the country for 10 years following an attack on the Sri Lanka team by gunmen in 2009.

I had the privilege of being in the Rawalpindi Stadium for that Test two years ago.

It was unbelievably difficult for fans to get in because of the security, but they did, and packed the house and loved it.

As a British Pakistan fan I've been spoiled and been able to see Pakistan play in England nearly every year for the last six years, whether it's the World Cup, Champions Trophy or a bilateral series.

So my sympathies are fully with the Pakistani fans, in Pakistan, who were looking forward to seeing these England stars perform.

It would have been a celebratory occasion as Pakistan roll out the red carpet for touring teams.

My fear is their fans will now just be like 'fine, we don't want to play against you either'.

I know I am quite passionate, but you should have heard some of the people in the Twitter Spaces I was on yesterday.

There was everything mentioned from 'pure racism' to 'colonialism', to every ism you can imagine.

How do we move forward?

So what now?

It's not about boycotting future tours of England or New Zealand because that doesn't help anybody, and certainly doesn't help cricket.

Pakistan are due to welcome a touring West Indies team in December and they should focus their efforts on that.

There's a domestic women's 50-over tournament also happening, so let's get more people watching that.

There's a national T20 competition, let's shift our attention to that.

But while we look forward, I strongly feel Pakistan have been wronged by New Zealand and England.

They were scheduled to play 15 T20s before the World Cup and now they will play less than four. Pakistan will be the least prepared and most isolated team ahead of the tournament.

The wounds of this will eventually heal, but the insult will not be forgotten.

Aatif Nawaz was speaking to BBC Sport's Kal Sajad.

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