LONDON (AFP) - England cricket chiefs on Monday (Sept 20) withdrew their men's and women's teams from next month's white-ball series in Pakistan citing "increasing concerns about travelling to the region" in a bitter blow to the South Asian nation.
The historic trip, which would have been the first ever by an England women's team and the first by their male counterparts since 2005, was in serious doubt after New Zealand pulled out of their tour of Pakistan on Friday over security fears.
Rawalpindi was due to host men's and women's Twenty20 double-headers on October 13 and 14 as England's men prepare for next month's T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Heather Knight's women's team were then due to play three one-day internationals (ODIs) in the same city.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement it had "reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip".
"The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in," it said.
"We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region and believe that going ahead will add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted Covid environments."
The move is a huge setback for Pakistan, which became a no-go area for international teams after a deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore.
In 2012 and 2015 Pakistan hosted England in the UAE, which has staged most of their "home" games since the attack.
A rapid improvement in security in recent years has led to the return of international cricket, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh touring in the past six years.
Pakistan cricket chief Ramiz Raja said England had failed his nation's cricket team by pulling out of the tour.
"Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment and failing a member of their cricket fraternity when it needed it most," tweeted the PCB chairman.
"Survive we will inshallah. A wake-up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses."
Former England captain Michael Vaughan said it was "inevitable" that England would pull out but questioned why the matches could not be moved to the UAE.
"Completely understandable in light of the security issues," Vaughan tweeted.
"But I am surprised it couldn't have been played in the UAE !! .. let's hope things can change & teams can tour Pakistan shortly!"
New Zealand last week quit their first tour of Pakistan in 18 years just as the first one-day international of a planned series of three was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The Black Caps had also been due to play five T20 matches in Lahore ahead of the World Cup.
The World Cup was moved from India due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced international cricketers to play in bio-secure bubbles for long stretches since the start of the global health crisis. New Zealand officials refused to give details of the security threat that forced them to abruptly cancel their matches.
The Black Caps previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.
Pakistan has denied any security threats but the country now faces the risk of further cancellations.
England's men are scheduled to play five ODIs and three Tests in Pakistan in late 2022 and the ECB reiterated its commitment to their plans for next year, thanking the PCB for Pakistan tours of England during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Cricket Australia has said it is monitoring the situation, gathering information from security experts, before deciding whether to tour Pakistan in February and March next year.