Michael Atherton has said that it is strange to see the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to have abandoned the Pakistan tour, but provided a three-month window for the players to participate in the IPL. England had called off the Pakistan tour citing security and bio-bubble fatigue reasons.
England was supposed to play Pakistan on their soil for the first time since 2005, but they abandoned the tour citing players' bio-bubble fatigue earlier this week. The announcement from the ECB came not long after New Zealand withdrew from their white-ball series against Pakistan, minutes before its start in Rawalpindi.
Although English players such as Johnny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes made themselves unavailable for the second leg of the IPL 2021 in the United Arab Emirates, nine players, Eoin Morgan (KKR), Sam Curran (CSK), Moeen Ali (CSK), Tom Curran (DC), Sam Billings (DC), Chris Jordan (PBKS), Jason Roy (SRH ), Adil Rashid (PBKS), George Garton (RCB) are currently participating in the tournament.
Michael Atherton was rather surprised at a significant number of IPL players participating in the IPL, not long after the Pakistan tour had been called off.
“Citing player welfare is strange when the ECB has essentially washed its hands of its players’ travel and cricketing commitments for three months of the year so that they can play in the Indian Premier League,” Atherton wrote in his column for ‘The Times’.
"If, as an employer, it is so wary of bubble and cricket fatigue, surely it should take more interest in the players’ availability for the IPL?
Now, of course, those who are playing in the tournament will be available for the knockout stages. It suits India and England, but not Pakistan, who have no direct stake, their players being barred still from the competition.”
The former England captain also wrote that this decision was far worse than England abandoning the tour of South Africa in late 2020, and India cancelling the fifth Test in Manchester earlier this month.
“This decision is worse than England’s withdrawal from South Africa last winter and India’s cancellation of the Manchester Test this month. While both those actions were hard to justify, they were at least understandable given Covid had come into close proximity to both teams.” Atherton wrote.
Earlier, PCB chairman Ramiz Raja had expressed his disappointment on England's withdrawal, and stated that they'd be ready with a back-up, should the need arise during the 2022 series. Atherton added that he understands the sense of betrayal and anger among Pakistan fans, and that the ECB had a chance to ‘repay the debt and do the right thing’.
“English cricket, the governing body and players, had a chance to do the right thing this week. They had a chance to repay a debt, uphold their honour and side with a cricketing nation that has undergone challenges others cannot even begin to contemplate. Instead, citing a mealy-mouthed statement, they did the wrong thing,” he wrote.
“They (PCB) do not expect England to travel, despite the commitment, and have lost any trust and faith in them. It is hard to blame them.”
Atherton observed that while it was completely understandable that a lot of players are suffering from bubble fatigue in COVID-19 times, the ECB could still have picked a team to tour Pakistan.
“Player welfare is an important issue, especially so with Covid, and the implication is that the wariness of travelling to Pakistan after New Zealand’s withdrawal would exacerbate those concerns. The players were spooked.
“Player welfare in this regard does not wash: while many players have spent long periods in Covid-restricted environments, there are many within the English game who have not, and who could have been asked to tour if others were unavailable.”
The former England captain believes that Australia’s decision to tour Pakistan won’t be any different.
“Australia’s reputation for doing the right thing is as bad as England’s, so it would be a surprise if they front up in February. Pakistan will be facing a financial hammer blow,” he added.