PCB vows top level to visiting Aussies

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Lahore, Dec 30 (UNI) Amid mounting security concerns following the assassinaton of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) guaranteed that the highest level of security will be provided to the Australians during their tour next year.

''Touring teams are routinely given the same level of security of visiting heads of state, and we would make every extra effort to make sure the Australians are safe. That would be above that of visiting prime ministers,'' said PCB Chairman Nasim Ashraf.

Dispelling worries that the Aussies may be targetted if they choose to visit the turbulent South Asian nation, Ashraf said, ''If you look at the history of our country, sporting teams have never been targeted, even during periods of great political turmoil.

We are hoping and expecting the Australian tour to go ahead.'' ''The tragic events of this week have caused a state of mourning and shock, but I expect that in a week or so things will begin to settle down and we can go back to planning as normal,'' he added.

Cricket Australia (CA) has defferred its decision until a security delegation that will visit Pakistan in February next year submits its report.

The ICC however, said that it may consider shifting the matches to a neutral venue if the security situation in Pakistan did not improve.

''Security can't be guaranteed anywhere,'' ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed said. ''Cricket is played in some dangerous countries.

Wherever possible we would like to see cricket tours that are scheduled to go ahead.'' ''It has been a long time since Australia has played in Pakistan,'' he aded. ''There will be many Pakistani fans who are waiting for this great Australian team to come and play against their team.'' ''We could have a counselling role about [neutral venues]. The problem with playing neutral series is that the home fans don't get to see it, and from a commercial perspective it doesn't work as well. We just need to let things play out.'' Australia are scheduled to play three Tests and five one-dayers during their Pakistan tour early next year.

UNI

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