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Why PSL 2022 is a reminder of the ECB's flimsy pullout from Pakistan tour

England celebrate the dismissal of Nicholas Pooran AFP via Getty Images

The Pakistan Super League is a finishing school for England's best T20 cricketers. Since the league's inception in 2016, England players have become increasingly popular to the extent that they now dominate the overseas player pool at the PSL, with nearly two-dozen due to appear in the 2022 edition which starts on Thursday.

Ten of the playing XI for their first T20 international against West Indies on Saturday have PSL experience and the only exception, Adil Rashid, has expressed his desire to play in it in future. Eight members of the squad for that tour will fly from Barbados to Pakistan straight after this series to join up with their respective teams, and all six teams have English representation in their squads.

A number of players have furthered their international cases through their involvement, including Phil Salt, Saqib Mahmood and Tymal Mills. "Playing for Peshawar Zalmi was a massive stepping stone for me to play for England," Dawid Malan said back in 2019. "The pressure you get as an overseas player is like no other - it sets you up for when you get back to international cricket," added Liam Livingstone.

The involvement of leading overseas players in the PSL has been a contributing factor in bringing international cricket back to Pakistan on a regular basis. Chris Jordan and Malan both played in - and won - the 2017 final, the first PSL game staged in Pakistan rather than the UAE; five years later, 23 English players will travel to Karachi and Lahore with full confidence in security arrangements.

The 2022 edition clashes with several international series and the Bangladesh Premier League, but falls during a rare break in England's schedule. There is a wide range of players involved: leading internationals, T20 circuit regulars, young players cutting their teeth and senior county pros looking for franchise experience. There are even two English coaches leading franchises in Peter Moores (Karachi Kings) and James Foster (Peshawar Zalmi).

But if the English influx is mutually beneficial, it also serves as a reminder that only four months ago, the ECB decided to call off men's and women's tours to Pakistan on the flimsiest grounds imaginable through a statement laced with hypocrisy and innuendo.

"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 statement said.

The Team England Player Partnership later clarified that the players had not been consulted over the decision; Ramiz Raja, the PCB's chairman, said that Pakistan felt as though they had been "used and binned".

The statement also made reference to the T20 World Cup, casting doubt on whether "touring under these conditions" would represent "ideal preparation", as though there was no choice but to send a first-choice, full-strength squad. In doing so, it ignored that the fixtures' very purpose.

The men's series - which would have comprised two T20Is and been England's first tour since 2005 - was effectively an acknowledgement of the sacrifice made in Pakistan's tour to England in 2020, during which their players quarantined in a three-star hotel and spent seven weeks in a country where Covid-19 was spreading fast. As a result, the ECB could fulfill its commitments to broadcasters and avoid an even heavier financial hit than the one it suffered.

Pakistan toured again in 2021 for three ODIs and three T20Is, and fulfilled the series even after England's first-choice squad was ruled out of the 50-over leg after a Covid outbreak. If England had been overseas in similar circumstances, would they really have seen the tour through?

Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, said at the time that England wanted to "play our part in ensuring the safe return of international cricket to this wonderful nation of passionate cricket fans" but by withdrawing in such vague circumstances, soon after New Zealand had pulled out of their own series, they immediately cast doubt on Australia's upcoming tour - which, thankfully, looks set to go ahead.

Perhaps this is water under the bridge. Ian Watmore resigned as the ECB's chairman shortly after England's withdrawal from the tours, and Harrison flew to Pakistan in November for discussions with Ramiz which concluded with an extension of England's planned tour this winter from five T20Is to seven.

But cricket's insistence on postponing rather than cancelling fixtures means there is no guarantee that the reasons, which supposedly underpinned this winter's withdrawal, will not apply in October. England's leading white-ball players have almost no wiggle-room in their schedule, and next winter are also due to play bilateral series in Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh on top of a T20 World Cup: can the ECB guarantee they will all be available?

The obvious solution would have been to go ahead with the men's tour as scheduled and, in the event that players declared themselves unavailable due to their IPL commitments, a desire for family time ahead of a busy winter overseas or any other concerns, to find replacements accordingly.

The contrast between English players' clear desire to play in Pakistan and the ECB's insistence that it could not fulfil a four-day, two-match tour should stick in the craw. The ill-judged, short-sighted decision to postpone is not one that will be forgotten quickly.