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Pakistan seeks to revive SA tour

Pakistan was on Sunday attempting to revive a South African tour which was cancelled due to security fears following a bomb blast.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2003 22:31 IST

Cricket-mad Pakistan was Sunday desperately attempting to revive an eagerly-awaited South African tour cancelled at the last minute on security fears following a bomb blast.

The South Africans had been due to arrive for a month-long tour Monday, but cancelled just 24 hours before they would have departed because of an explosion in a Karachi office block late Friday that produced no casualties.

Fuming Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) leaders expressed shock and bitter disappointment at the decision.

The Test and one-day tour by the South Africans had been eagerly awaited as a mark of the return of top-level international cricket to the terror-hit Islamic republic, where a wave of deadly violence last year against Westerners and Christians has kept foreign teams away for 15 months.

The PCB has now offered to alter schedules and venues in a last-ditch bid to persuade the South Africans to change their minds.

"We ... have offered them to change fixtures in Karachi and Peshawar and delay the start to tour by a week. We hope something positive will come out," PCB spokesman Samiul Hasan said.

"We hope the South African cricket officials will reverse their decision soon."

The United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) has offered to host the series in South Africa or play at a third country "neutral" venue, or to postpone the visit to Pakistan, amid concerns expressed by UCBSA president Ray Mali that security in Pakistan had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.

Cricket fans protested outside Karachi's National Stadium as Pakistan took on Bangladesh in the final match of a trouble-free Test and one-day series.

Around 50 protesters waved placards reading "Please reconsider your decision" and "Sever ties with South Africa."

"We feel that South Africa has snatched an opportunity of watching quality cricket from us," protest leaders Mohammad Akram said.

Pakistan has been suffering under a cricket drought since the September 11 attacks on the United States and the retaliatory military campaign in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The New Zealand team fled after a suicide car bomb attack outside their Karachi hotel in May 2002 killed 11 French nationals and three Pakistanis.

The West Indies and Australia later refused to tour Pakistan and forced Pakistan to play their home series on neutral venues.

Sunday newspapers blasted South Africa's decision.

"Perhaps the UCB chief should have first assessed the situation in his own country," English-language daily Dawn wrote, and urged the PCB not to accept South Africa's offer to play outside Pakistan.

The News daily called the cancellation "hasty" and "cowardly," while Urdu newspaper daily Kainat accused South Africa of double standards.

"While showing lack of confidence on security in Asian countries, the South Africans forget terrorism in their own country," Kainat wrote.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) promised in a statement to "explore all available alternatives to see if it is possible to reschedule the tour and the programme of matches in Pakistan in the near future."

Former South African Test all rounder Mike Procter, in Pakistan for the last five weeks to referee the Pakistan-Bangladesh series, said the coming two days were "very important" for negotiations.

"It is very, very disappointing...let's hope it's not the end," said Procter, who praised security arrangements in Pakistan.

"The security during Bangladesh's tour has been excellent. I had no security problems in Pakistan."

First Published: Sep 21, 2003 13:21 IST