Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja expressed his dismay yesterday at New Zealand’s decision to abandon a limited-overs series over security concerns just as the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
“Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared!!” tweeted Raja, appointed on Monday as the new PCB chairman. Raja, a former Pakistan captain, indicated the matter would be taken to the International Cricket Council. “Which world is NZ living in?? NZ will hear us at ICC.”
Pakistan and New Zealand, the world’s top-ranked ODI team, were due to play three one-day internationals in Rawalpindi, followed by five Twenty20 matches in Lahore. The tourists’ decision to abandon the series came after “an escalation in the New Zealand government threat levels for Pakistan”.
“Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from New Zealand Cricket security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour,” New Zealand Cricket said in a statement.
Arrangements are being made for the team to leave the country, it added. New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said Pakistan had been “wonderful hosts”, but “player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option”.
The Kiwis previously cut short a tour to Pakistan in 2002 after a bomb blast outside their team hotel in Karachi killed several French naval staff and Pakistanis. New Zealand returned to Pakistan the following year but had not been back to play there since.
Yesterday’s move was a massive setback to Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan side. The England and Wales Cricket Board said it would decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said New Zealand made the decision unilaterally. Before the match was to start, Prime Minister Imran Khan – himself an international cricketing legend – spoke with his counterpart Jacinda Ardern to assure her of the team’s safety, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad said.
He said Ardern reported that the team may be at risk of an attack outside the stadium. “There is no threat to cricket in Pakistan, there was no threat to New Zealand and there is no threat to England,” he added.
A security delegation from New Zealand last month inspected arrangements in Pakistan and it was only after their clearance that the tour was given a go-ahead. “The security officials with the New Zealand team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the Pakistan government throughout their stay here,” the PCB statement said.
Most of the squad arrived on Saturday and Sunday with a level of security usually reserved for visiting heads of state that included armed guards escorting their bulletproof buses. Their Islamabad hotel, some 10 kilometres from the Rawalpindi stadium where they were due to play, has been guarded by a heavy paramilitary and police contingent.
Local media reported that the team were due to fly out today on a chartered flight. Pakistan are due to host England for two Twenty20 internationals next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also to tour in the next six months.
Security in Pakistan has improved dramatically over the past few years but militant groups still operate along the border with Afghanistan. After the Taliban seized control of neighbouring Afghanistan last month, the region is watching closely for any spillover of militant threats – though interior minister Rasheed said in a press conference that its borders were secure.
Pakistan is “being punished for the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” security analyst Qamar Cheema said. “It seems that the past is still haunting us, those incidents have badly damaged our reputation and now the Afghan situation has also impacted our regional security,” retired general turned security analyst Talat Masood added.
“Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan cricket fans,” current Pakistan captain Babar Azam tweeted. “I’ve full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies. They are our pride and always will be!”
Former fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar said “New Zealand just killed Pakistan cricket”, pointing out that the country has safely hosted South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in recent years.
“We will rise from this. And soon... Not the first time we’ve been pushed against the wall. Unnecessary and uncalled for decision by Blackcaps,” he wrote on social media.
Shoaib also referenced Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand at the end of last year “in the worst of Covid circumstances regardless of the crude treatment by NZ authorities on that tour.”
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