Shoaib Bashir, England rookie off-spinner of Pakistani origin, was forced to head back to England from the team’s Abu Dhabi training base after a prolonged wait to secure an Indian visa.
The delay in issuance of an Indian visa to Bashir has snowballed into a major controversy on the eve of a much-hyped Test series between India and England with visiting skipper Ben Stokes calling the turn of events “frustrating” and a British government spokesperson demanding “fair” treatment for the youngster.
The 20-year-old, who plays for Somerset in the English county, was a shock inclusion in the squad with a mediocre 10 wickets from just six first-class games, was never in contention for a place in the squad for the opening Test starting Thursday.
“When I first found the news out in Abu Dhabi, I did say we shouldn’t fly until Bash gets his visa,” Stokes said in the pre-match press conference.
“But that was a little bit tongue in cheek. I know it’s a way bigger thing than doing that. That was probably just emotions around the whole thing. I’m pretty devastated that Bash has had to go through this,” he added.
Bashir is back in London and Stokes hoped that he would be able to join the squad by the end of this week.
“…hopefully, we’re going to see him back in India over the weekend. The feelings we have towards it (the visa episode) hasn’t changed. It’s obviously a frustrating situation,” Stokes said.
“As a leader, as a captain, when one of your teammates is affected by something like that, you get a bit emotional. I know he’s back in London and a lot of people are jumping through hoops to try and get this through quicker…Bash knows he’s had our full support.
“You know, we had announced our squad mid-December. Now, it’s January 24 and we still don’t have a reason for Shoaib’s absence here…hopefully, we can get over and he can also just concentrate on the rest of his tour,” he added.
An unnamed British government spokesperson told ‘ESPNcricinfo that it isn’t the first time that citizens of Pakistani heritage have faced a delay in securing Indian visas.
“The specifics of this case are a matter for Shoaib Bashir and the Indian Government. But we absolutely expect India to treat British citizens fairly at all times in its visa process.
“We have previously raised the issues British citizens with Pakistani heritage experience applying for visas with the Indian High Commission in London,” he said.
India have, so far, not commented on the matter.
His visa needed to be stamped in the UK. The ECB sent Shoaib Bashir to the UAE, thinking it would be stamped in a third country.Not following basic procedures , assuming things and then crying foul is an old English way.If anyone, it is the ECB at fault. https://t.co/Fw8tG0XsD8— Venkatesh Prasad (@venkateshprasad) January 24, 2024
India captain Rohit Sharma also offered his view on the matter in his pre-match press conference here and hoped that Bashir would be seen in action soon.
“I feel for him. He is coming, I think, for the first time. Unfortunately I don’t sit in visa office to make the decision. Hopefully he will make it here soon,” Rohit said.
Khawaja Faced Something Similar
Australian opener Usman Khawaja, who is of Pakistani origin as well, faced a similar situation when he arrived late for the Test series in India last year.
Players of Pakistani heritage, who have a Pakistani visa, have to apply at the Indian High Commission of their respective countries to be able to travel to India.
While Bashir is expected to get the stamp of approval from Indian High Commission in London, the turn of events left Stokes a tad irked.
“He’s not the first cricketer to go through this. I have played with a lot of people who have had the same issues,” Stokes said.
Another player of Pakistani origin, Saqib Mahmood, couldn’t travel to India in 2019 for an ‘A’ series.
England and Wales Cricket Board’s MD (Operations) Stuart Hooper was in the UAE to speed up the procedure for Bashir but it didn’t get the desired result.
“I find it frustrating that we have picked a player and he’s not with us because of visa issues. It’s a frustrating situation to be in but a lot of people have been trying to get it through,” Stokes reiterated.
(With inputs from Agencies)