Cricket Australia will wait at least eight weeks before deciding whether Australia will tour Pakistan in March. The assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on Thursday raised further concerns about the series, but James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, said the shooting and subsequent violence in the country had not changed the organisation's view.
"During February we'll have a look at the circumstances that are relevant to the tour," he said. "Right now playing in a neutral venue is not something that's under consideration. There's a commitment to tour Pakistan and we'll be pursuing every avenue we can for that tour to go ahead."
Sutherland said Cricket Australia was not at the stage of "looking too deeply into this", but it would remain in contact with the federal government and take advice from its security experts. "The tour is nearly three months away," he said. "The appropriate time for us is really eight weeks away."
A delegation of officials from Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association is due to visit the country in February to make a decision on whether the trip will proceed. Sutherland said the safety of the players and the advance party was paramount.
Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd was confident the tour would go ahead as he felt that cricket is a tool to improve diplomatic relations between countries. "I think we'll sort that all out with Cricket Australia as the time approaches," Rudd said in a radio program. "It's always hard, it's always difficult, but (cricket) is a great international game. It's a great language of international diplomacy.
In response to that, Nasim Ashraf, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, said he was happy with Rudd's positive statement. "We are happy that the Australia prime minister has taken a very positive approach on the issue," Ashraf told The News. "The Australian team will be safe in Pakistan, which is a nation that loves sports. In addition, we will be providing them a fool-proof security cover here."
Michael Clarke said the team was confident with any choice made by Cricket Australia. "We'll all be leaving it to them, we're out of our depth," he said. "I certainly don't know enough about it. Cricket Australia will let us know when we get closer to touring there and I'll go on whatever they say."
Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said if Australia's investigation concluded that touring would be too dangerous the ICC would complete its own report. "If ultimately it's decided it's unsafe, the next step is a neutral venue and the next step is to defer the series and fit it in to the schedule," he told ABC radio. "There will be no decisions in the next week or the next month."
Pakistan staged the 2002-03 series against Australia in Sharjah and Sri Lanka, but Speed said the ICC could not force the next contest to be held at a neutral venue. "That's another option for Pakistan," he said. "We need to wait and see how things settle down." The Pakistan Cricket Board has said the matches would not be played outside Pakistan.
Wasim Akram said the PCB could do nothing at the moment to ensure the Australia tour occurred. "First the country has to settle down into some state of normalcy," he said. A previous Australian delegation visited Pakistan in July before the Australia A and Under-19 tours that were held without any problems.