Australia likely to call off Pakistan tour

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Lahore, Dec 30 (UNI) Australia's much talked about tour of Pakistan next year might just be saved after a timely intervention of International Cricket Council (ICC) which also raises a huge possibility that the matches could be shifted to Australia.

Earlier, there were speculations that Australia's tour of Pakistan scheduled for March-April next year could be cancelled following the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday.

ICC Chief Executive, Malcolm Speed made it very clear that the game's governing body can transfer the much-awaited series to Australia if Pakistan are willing to take that option.

But top Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials had already said that they would not allow the series to be played on a neutral venue.

Speed was quoted as saying by Australian media that ''things needed to settle down before any decisions could be made'' and pointed out ''cricket was a game played in dangerous countries.'' Australia last toured Pakistan in 1998 under the captaincy of Mark Taylor. In 2002 they cancelled a tour of Pakistan in because of security fears and the series was played in Colombo and Sharjah.

''It's been a long time since Australia has toured Pakistan so there will be many Pakistani fans who are waiting for this great Australian team to come and play against them, Speed said .

Cricket Australia (CA) recently said that it is monitoring the security situation in Pakistan and will take a final decision after getting the report of its security delegation that is scheduled to visit this country in February.

But Australian media reports said yesterday that Australia's visit to Pakistan in March next year will certainly be cancelled following a stark warning posted on Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, strongly advising its citizens against any visits to this country.

Meanwhile, a PCB official said that terrorists are not concerned about Aussie cricketers and they were not a target for terrorists in Pakistan.

PCBs chief executive, Shafqat Naghmi said ''The tour is in March and I am sure the current situation will improve. If they get back to us, we will give them all the assurances we can.

''Unfortunately, she (Bhutto) was a target of assassination.

She came to Pakistan six to eight weeks ago. She was targeted.

I don't think this will have anything to do with the Australian cricketers,'' he added.

But CA is far from convinced from any assurances from PCB.

Cricket Australia's chief executive, James Sutherland, said a final decision on the tour would be made in consultation with the Australian government.

''They will look at the relevant environmental considerations in Pakistan at that time, talk to all the relevant security experts on the ground, the Pakistan Government, the Pakistan Cricket Board, and report back to us,'' he said.

UNI

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