The Afghanistan and Pakistan cricket boards had only last week agreed to hosting friendly matches later in the summer © Getty Images
Tense geo-political ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken a toll on their cricketing relationship in the aftermath of a bomb attack in Kabul, which killed 90 people and injured nearly 500 more.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) reacted first on Wednesday night by announcing it had cancelled friendly matches agreed between the two sides for later this summer. On Thursday, the matter escalated when, in an expanded statement, the ACB placed the blame for the attack on Pakistan, saying no agreement could be “valid in a country where terrorists are housed and provided safe havens”.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) issued a response extending its sympathies to the victims of yesterday’s attack, but also hitting back at the “baseless allegations levelled by the Afghanistan Cricket Board”. And despite the ACB having announced the cancellation, the PCB said the matches were an “informal understanding with ACB last weekend” and were “subject to conducive security conditions in Afghanistan and now stands cancelled because of continuing insecurity and instability there”.
The Pakistan board took a shot at statements made by the ACB chairman Atif Mashal in Lahore last week that politics would not be allowed to seep into cricketing ties between the two countries. “It is also deeply regrettable that the ACB delegation in Pakistan was at pains to insist that politics should not impinge on cricket but has now turned around and is playing politics by laying the blame for its troubles and inadequacies on Pakistan,” the PCB release said.
The episode marks a particular low in what was once seen as a model relationship between a Full Member and an Associate side. When Afghanistan were first making waves in international cricket, the PCB sent several A sides to the country, and opened up training facilities at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore to its neighbours. Pakistan were Afghanistan’s first Full Member opponents in ODI cricket, and their first T20 opponents outside of a World T20. But the complicated geo-politics of the region has meant Afghanistan’s ties with the BCCI – the side trains in Greater Noida, outside Delhi – have not gone down especially well with the PCB and relations have gradually cooled.
An immediate impact might be on Afghanistan’s T20 league, scheduled to begin on July 18. Pakistani players have participated in it and were to do so again this season – Kamran and Umar Akmal, Babar Azam, Sohail Tanvir and Rumman Raees were all part of an auction last week. After the developments of the last 24 hours, it is unlikely these players will obtain the required NOCs from the PCB to play in Afghanistan.
The developments also leave Pakistan in an awkward position of strained ties with their fellow Asian cricketing nations, with the exception of Sri Lanka. There has been friction with the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) over the last few years, amped up in recent days over their refusal to tour Pakistan owing to security concerns – that has prompted Pakistan to call off their own tour to Bangladesh. And because political relations with India are at a low, Pakistan have played just one bilateral series against them since 2008.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo