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Were England’s players consulted over their Pakistan tour pull-out or weren’t they?

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

More than 10 days after the ECB announced they would be pulling England’s men’s and women’s teams out of their scheduled tour to Pakistan, confusion still reigns over how exactly the decision was arrived at.

In particular, it is still unclear whether England’s players were consulted. The initial statement made clear that player welfare was at the heart of the decision. “The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in,” a statement from the ECB board read. “We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region and believe 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.”

The wording was taken by some as suggesting that the decision had been made by the players, especially in light of the reluctance of some to tour Australia this winter, citing strenuous Covid-19 protocols which could prevent their families from travelling. Two England players, men’s wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and women’s captain Heather Knight, have both made clear the decision was the board’s, not the players, though neither said they disagreed with the choice.

“We found yesterday that the board had made the decision for us not to go and it’s above our heads a little bit,” Knight said. “I think the conversation and the communication between the board and PCA is a strong one, and it was a tricky situation with what had gone on with New Zealand. I think taking it out of our hands is probably the right thing to do and, and that was done with a view to try and look after the players. It’s for the people above us to make those decisions and for us to to get on with them and accept wherever they are.”

“You feel for the people of Pakistan and the players who want to welcome teams back and have cricket in their home country,” added Buttler. “I’ve spoken to a few of the guys in the Pakistan Super League who have thoroughly enjoyed playing there and it is unfortunate this time that it is not quite right and the board made their decision. I do hope that the tour that is due to go ahead in 2022 is one that gets England back playing in Pakistan and I am able to play cricket there for the first time in my career.”

It was reported that the Team England Player Partnership (TEPP), which negotiates with the ECB on behalf of the players, intervened to force the cancellation of the tour, but this has been strenuously denied by TEPP.

“At no stage has the ECB ever asked Team England Player Partnership or the teams, men and women, whether the tour should go ahead or whether players were prepared to tour Pakistan,” they said. “At no stage has Team England Player Partnership informed the ECB that the players would not be touring. The ECB board met last Sunday to debate the tour to Pakistan. That afternoon we were informed the tour had been cancelled. Team England Player Partnership was not asked for our input and we were not involved in the decision to cancel the tour.”

ECB chair Ian Watmore confirmed that the decision was a unilateral one made by the board, and apologised for the decision that had been made. “I’m very sorry to anyone who feels hurt or let down by our decision, particularly in Pakistan,” he told the Daily Mail. “The decision the board made was an extremely difficult one and the board made it with the primary consideration being the welfare and mental health of our players and staff.

“The board took the decision based on its own judgments and it didn’t go out to consultation. Had we decided to go forward with the tour we’d have had to put the proposals to the players, but it didn’t reach that. We’ve recommitted to a proper tour, a scheduled tour, of Pakistan next year and will get on with planning that. We will have longer to plan that trip.”

However, Clare Connor, managing director of women’s cricket for the ECB, has since muddied the waters once more.

“There were lots of conversations and lots of conversations with the players, whether they formal minuted consultation meetings or whether there were informal conversations about the evolving situation last weekend,” she told BBC’s Stumped podcast. “The board with the information in front of them had to make a decision – there was an urgency to the decision, particularly with the men’s side with the T20 World Cup and the logistical side of things.”

It might seem unimportant. The decision has been made. Does it really matter who made it?

But the saga is another example of confused messaging coming from the ECB, and also a response to the ire that the decision has provoked. There is also a perception that player welfare has been used to mask the real reasons for the tour pull-out, something which would be lessened had the players been consulted. There has been fury in Pakistan and England over the decision made, and those angry deserve to know where, if anywhere, it should be directed. There is little sign of a satisfactory conclusion for all involved – or not involved – in the decision.

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