NZ call off tour at eleventh hour

England visit also on knife edge as ECB to decide if the tour should proceed


Our Correspondent September 18, 2021
New Zealand Black Caps cricket team practices in Pakistan in this undated handout image taken from video. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

New Zealand on Friday abruptly abandoned their tour of Pakistan citing a security alert in a massive blow to the South Asian country's hopes of staging regular international cricket.

The Blackcaps quit the series at the last minute citing unspecified security threats despite being given security assurance by Prime Minister Imran Khan to his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern.

She, however, backed the Kiwi cricket board’s decision to call off the entire tour over the undisclosed security alert.

The tour was due to get underway with the first of three ODIs in Rawalpindi on Friday but New Zealand did not travel to the stadium.

The New Zealand Cricket (NZC) then issued a statement announcing their decision to call off the tour.

"Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisers on the ground, it has been decided the Blackcaps will not continue with the tour," it said.

The NZC declined to share details of the security threat and said arrangements were being made for the team's departure.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the NZC had "unilaterally” decided to postpone the series despite "foolproof security arrangements" made for the matches.

"The Pakistan Prime Minister spoke personally to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and informed her that we have one of the best intelligence systems in the world and that no security threat of any kind exists for the visiting team," the PCB said in a statement.

Read BJP-run Indian media knew about 'security threats' to NZ tour a month ago

“The PCB is willing to continue the scheduled matches. However, cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world will be disappointed by this last-minute withdrawal."

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. The team was due to fly out on Saturday on a chartered flight.

Newly-appointed PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said they would approach the International Cricket Council (ICC) over what transpired on a "crazy day".

"Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it's not shared!! Which world is NZ living in?? NZ will hear us at ICC," Raja tweeted.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam also expressed disappointment over abrupt postponement of the series.

In his tweet, he stated: “Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan Cricket Fans. I’ve full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies. They are our pride and always will be! Pakistan Zindabad”

New Zealand, minus several frontline players, were visiting Pakistan for the first time in 18 years and also due to play five Twenty20 matches in Lahore.

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They previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a bomb blast outside their team hotel in Karachi killed several French naval staff and Pakistanis.

Top teams have largely shunned Pakistan following an attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009 that killed six policemen and two civilians.

"I understand this will be a blow for the PCB, who have been wonderful hosts, but player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option," NZC chief executive David White said.

New Zealand Cricket Players Association Chief Executive Heath Mills echoed White’s sentiments. “We’ve been across this process throughout and are fully supportive of the decision,” said Mills. “The players are in good hands; they’re safe – and everyone’s acting in their best interests.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern backed the NZC's decision to end the tour. "I know how disappointing it will be for everyone that the game hasn't gone ahead, but we totally support the decision that's been made. Player safety has to be paramount," she said in a statement.

Harsh criticism followed the decision made by the Blackcaps as several big names of the cricketing world expressed their disappointment over the move made at the eleventh hour.

More disappointment could be in store for the PCB with England now reconsidering what was to be their first Pakistan visit in 16 years to play two Twenty20 matches in Rawalpindi next month.

"We are liaising with our security team who are on the ground in Pakistan to fully understand the situation," an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) spokesperson said.

The ECB Board will decide in the next few days if the tour should proceed.

(With input from agencies)

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