It’s a huge blow — not just to Pakistan cricket. New Zealand cricket team calling off the Pakistan tour over security concerns minutes before the first game was scheduled, in Rawalpindi, has left cricket fans, players and PCB officials perplexed and disappointed. The New Zealand team — which visited Pakistan after 18 long years to play three ODIs and five T20Is — was abruptly preparing to leave the country, claiming that the safety of the players was ‘paramount’. Following the incident, the England and Wales Cricket Board is now questioning whether they should send their team to the upcoming series with Pakistan.
Even Prime Minister Imran Khan was not able to convince his Kiwi counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, that the team was provided head-of-state level security, intelligence agencies were working around the clock, and that there was no intel of any threats. In response, the New Zealand government said they had received information that once the teams would enter the stadium, there were chances of an attack taking place. The May 9, 2002 suicide blast in Karachi — in which 14 people, including French naval engineers, had been killed — may have played on the psyche of the Kiwi authorities. Remember New Zealand cricketers were staying at the PC Hotel just across the road where the blast occurred and were about to board their bus to travel to National Stadium for a Test match. The tour had been aborted forthwith. Still, considering that the NZ security experts were satisfied with the security preparations beforehand, it is hard to reconcile with the latest pullout.
Regrettably, the effort that was invested in ensuring a successful Pak-NZ tour has now gone to waste. This is indeed a huge blow to the whole country. Cricket has always been much bigger than the sport itself. Its revival is tied to the hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis, and to the overall development and prosperity of the country. A successful series would have helped alleviate any security concerns the international community had, uplift tourism by encouraging tourists to visit especially during the next PSL, promote a balanced image of Pakistan, and encourage foreign investors to invest openly without fear. The game is woven within the socio-economic fabric of the country.
One is reminded of the horrific 2019 attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore which resulted in a decade-long drought of international sporting events in Pakistan. The sudden panic created appears to be a part of a similar conspiracy that aims to tarnish the image of Pakistan in a nefarious bid to turn it into a pariah state. While it would be unethical to point fingers without concrete evidence, one can definitely narrow down the scope of who is behind this especially considering the recent Afghan imbroglio and the enormous hype created around the upcoming IPL tournament. It is a clear attempt to sabotage and undo all the progress Pakistan has made in the recent years — something that the interior minister also insisted on during a press conference held a couple of hours after the series cancellation.
While the smiles on the faces of millions of Pakistanis have temporarily disappeared, all eyes are on the newly appointed PCB Chairman, Ramiz Raja, who must now address the ICC in a diplomatic manner. The Pakistani government too must push New Zealand to provide more information in order to better understand what exactly happened within the span of a few hours. We must not let this incident dampen our hopes.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2021.
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