England under fire from cricket greats Ian Botham and Michael Holding

England have come under fire from two cricketing greats, with Ian Botham suggesting some players “don’t fancy the ultimate test” of this winter’s Ashes tour. Michael Holding, meanwhile, has accused the England and Wales Cricket Board of “western arrogance” over the cancellation of the tour of Pakistan.

The five-Test Ashes series is in doubt due to the strict coronavirus restrictions in Australia, although there were positive talks on Tuesday. The ECB and Cricket Australia are still in discussions over quarantine periods and off-field restrictions, with England players set to make decisions on travelling by the end of this week.

Botham has accused some England players of hiding behind the Covid-19 issue. “It’s the ultimate test and I start to wonder maybe if some of these guys don’t fancy the ultimate test,” the former England cricketer told the Daily Telegraph (£).

“You have to start to worry about it,” Botham added. “To play Test cricket for England is the ultimate and to play in Australia and win is magnificent. I suggest it’s a challenge and if I was in their boots, I’d already have my bags packed.”

Meanwhile, Holding has said the ECB’s reasons for withdrawing from the series in Pakistan didn’t “wash with him”. Last month, the ECB announced the scheduled October trip had been cancelled because of concerns over “mental and physical well-being”. It would have been the first tour of Pakistan by an England women’s team and the first by their male counterparts since 2005.

The ECB’s lengthy statement also indicated a broader unease at travelling to the region, as well as referencing bubble fatigue and Twenty20 World Cup preparations. New Zealand had also pulled out of their own series in Pakistan, citing a security threat. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman, Ramiz Raja, warned that the cancellations risked creating a divide in international cricket.

“The ECB statement doesn’t wash with me. No substance,” Holding told BBC Sport after receiving the Cricket Writers’ Club Peter Smith Award. “Nobody wants to come forward and face up to anything because they know what they did was wrong.

“So they put out a statement and hid behind [it]. It just reminds me of the rubbish they did with Black Lives Matter,” added the former West Indies international. “What that signal sends to me, is the same western arrogance. I will treat you how I feel like treating you, it doesn’t matter what you think, I’ll just do what I want.”

“Pakistan went to England, before vaccines were available, for six or seven weeks,” said Holding, who is now a cricket commentator and pundit. “They stayed, they played their cricket … to save England’s butt, to put it mildly. Four days in Pakistan? I’m absolutely sure they would not have done that to India, because India is rich and powerful.”

In a statement provided to PA Media, the ECB said: “We understand this decision will be a significant disappointment to the PCB, who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country.

“Their support of English and Welsh cricket over the last two summers has been a huge demonstration of friendship. We are sincerely sorry for the impact this will have on cricket in Pakistan and emphasise an ongoing commitment to our main touring plans there for 2022.”