LONDON: England will not serve as a neutral venue for Pakistan again next summer. After the spot-fixing crisis of the last fortnight, Pakistan are believed to have been written out of the script and fixture schedule for the 2011 season.
The situation has been complicated by the fact that the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke is also the head of the International Cricket Council's new Pakistan Task group.
But his look of disdain, if not outright contempt, for Mohammed Amir, when he was selected as Pakistan's man of the series, and that Clarke refused to shake his hand, reflects the ECB's new, less-enthusiastic attitude towards Pakistan.
The ECB's grand design had been for Pakistan to use England as their second home so long as Pakistan was bedevilled by insecurity and terrorism. But their two-Test series against Australia flopped at Headingley in terms of crowd numbers, instead of being the commercial success the ECB had hoped for.
Then the spot-fixing allegations and the suspension of three of Pakistan's top players dispelled thoughts of inviting Pakistan back to England in a hurry.
On Tuesday week the Pakistan bowler Wahab Riaz becomes the fourth man to be interviewed by police. England nowadays usually do without a third man, but at their current rate Pakistan may soon have to manage without a fifth, sixth or seventh man.
For 2011 the ECB's chief aspiration had been to stage a neutral Test and one-day series here between Pakistan and India, which would have drawn the crowds, at least for the limited-overs games. They would have served to help sustain England's over-supply of international venues.
But, even if India's government had allowed its national team to resume bilateral series against Pakistan – at present they can only play against each other in ICC tournaments like the World Cup – India are now fully booked for next summer. Immediately before their four-Test series in England they have to tour the West Indies, and immediately afterwards follows the Champions League, in which Indian players – and television – will be intimately involved.
As a modest alternative the ECB has thought of hosting a one-day series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka – a little something for Old Trafford and Headingley, which have not been allotted a Test next summer – and had left open a window of just over a week in July. But such a cloud has descended on Pakistan that, according to a ECB official, "nobody is thinking about that one any more".
So now Pakistan face an even longer time in the wilderness than they had before. Already inked into their schedule are the Test and one-day series against South Africa in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, starting in late October, and in New Zealand after Christmas. But once those encounters are out of the way, and the World Cup, Pakistan look as though they will be left with no opponents except the two countries desperate for someone to play: Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
To cast off their pariah status, Zimbabwe's board have offered to tour Pakistan later this year – between Pakistan's series in the Gulf and in New Zealand. But the ICC, after examining the security reports, will surely put their foot down and stop Zimbabwe touring simply on the grounds that it not reasonably safe to do so, irrespective of what their Task team may urge.
Zimbabwe's cricketers are the most vulnerable on three counts.
One is that their board wants to resume Test status next year after the World Cup – and could pressurise their players to meet this objective.
Secondly, Zimbabwe's players have been the worst paid of the ten ICC Full Members, as so much of the board's revenue has disappeared into other pockets. Thirdly, their players do not yet have a union of their own.
The potentially fatal drawback to all existing Test venues in Pakistan is that either the ground, or the nearest hotel of international standard (and usually both), is situated in a built-up area in the middle of a city and impossible to secure. The point was illustrated when the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, which was going to be used by several teams – including England – for the 2008 Champions Trophy, was blown up by a suicide-bomber in a lorry packed with explosives.
If the ICC's Pakistan Task group, headed by Clarke, is going to restore cricket to Pakistan sooner rather than later, a new ground has to be constructed – along with accommodation for teams and officials – outside a city. One possible venue would be Gwadar, on the south-west coast of Pakistan, which has an international airport, a growing sea port, and masses of space as the region is desert wherever desalinised water is not used. A fortress stadium with apartments inside it for players and officials would not be homely, but it could be secured – and Pakistan would once again be able to host teams at home.
As for Salman Butt, Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif, who returned to Pakistan via Kuwait, the timescale for their case is likely to be prolonged. Currently they are provisionally suspended, and face only preliminary charges by the ICC. Only after the Metropolitan police have concluded their investigations can the ICC Code of Conduct Commission set to work.
The Honourable Michael Beloff is the Code of Conduct Commissioner, having succeeded Lord Griffiths in 2002. He could appoint a Judicial Commissioner – ICC has 17 available from its member countries – or conduct the hearing himself.
Then a preliminary hearing has to be held between the various parties by telephone conference call. If a Notice of Charge is issued, the full hearing has to take place within 14 days except in 'exceptional circumstances.' Beloff established his reputation in cricket circles when he conducted the hearing which led to Maurice Odumbe, Kenya's captain, being banned for five years.
The charge of being susceptible to Asian pressure, which has been levelled at some ICC officials, could not stick after Delhi's cricket ground had been banned for being unfit for a one-day international against Sri Lanka in December 2009, and Beloff upheld the one-year ban.