ECB chief quits following criticism of decision to cancel Pakistan’s tour

LONDON  – The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced on Thursday that chairman Ian Watmore was stepping down with immediate effect, following criticism of the decision to cancel a tour of Pakistan. 

Watmore, 63, has a reached a “mutual agreement” with the board to leave his role following the end of the domestic season after just over a year in the role. ECB deputy chairman Barry O’Brien will replace Watmore on an interim basis while a successor is found. 

His resignation comes a day before England is to announce whether its players will travel to Australia for the Ashes series scheduled for December and January, and just weeks after the ECB withdrew its men’s and women’s teams from a tour of Pakistan in a decision that has created a schism in world cricket. Watmore hasn’t commented publicly since the decision was made. 

Last month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had also expressed anger over the ECB’s decision to cancel the tour to Pakistan scheduled for November. His position, normally held for a five-year-term, had come under scrutiny following the move to scrap the Pakistan trip, involving England’s men’s and women’s teams. 

“It is with regret that I step down as chair of the ECB, but I do so in mindfulness of my own wellbeing and that of the game which I love,” said Watmore. “I was appointed to the post in a pre-pandemic era, but Covid has meant the role and its demands on time are dramatically different to all our original expectations, which has taken a personal toll on me. “Given this, the board and I feel the ECB will be better served by a new chair to take it forward post pandemic.” 

Last month Watmore made a public apology to Pakistan for cancelling the tour. “I’m very sorry to anyone who feels hurt or let down by our decision, particularly in Pakistan,” he said. Watmore, formerly the chief executive of the Football Association, started his role as ECB chairman in September 2020 after the retirement of Colin Graves. 

The ECB last month cancelled white-ball tours to Pakistan by the men’s and women’s teams due to take place this month, citing “increasing concerns about travelling to the region” and player welfare. It came just days after New Zealand also pulled out of a tour to the country over security concerns. The decision to scrap the first trip by an England men’s side to Pakistan since 2005 prompted a furious reaction in the south Asian nation. 

The ECB is meeting this week to decide whether the Ashes, due to start in December, can go ahead — concerns over player welfare and Australia’s strict coronavirus restrictions led to fears the tour may not take place. But reports suggest there have been positive talks with Cricket Australia.  

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