The New Zealand cricket team flew out of Pakistan on Saturday, a day after abandoning their eight-match rubber over security threat, which, according to the New Zealand’s media reports, was issued by a global intelligence alliance.
The 33-member squad, including players and officials, boarded an Abu Dhabi-bound chartered flight from the airport in Islamabad in the evening. From the Abu Dhabi, the team would take the flight for New Zealand.
The squad was taken to the airport from their hotel amid tight security. They were taken to the state guest lounge at the airport, where they went through rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for Covid-19. Later, they were allowed to board the flight after all the reports came negative.
The Black Caps were due to play three one-day internationals (ODIs) and five Twenty20 internationals (T20Is) during their first tour to Pakistan in 18 years. They abandoned the tour as the first ODI was due to start in Rawalpindi on Friday.
The New Zealand Cricket said the tour was cancelled after escalation in the government’s threat levels for Pakistan and advice from its cricket security advisers on the ground. In a statement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also supported the cancellation, saying: “Player safety has to be paramount.”
Friday, there was a veil of secrecy over the “security threat”. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid maintained that the team called off the tour because of an “international ‘conspiracy” despite Prime Minister Imran Khan’s assurances of security.
On Saturday, the NZ Herald reported that ‘Five Eyes’ – a global intelligence alliance of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK – had issued the security threat, which the authorities took very seriously.
“The threat was deemed credible before the match, and led to phone calls between New Zealand Cricket (NZC) and their counterparts at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), and Pakistan and New Zealand Prime Ministers Imran Khan and Jacinda Ardern,” the New Zealand daily reported.
About a Rawalpindi police advisory earlier this week, citing a threat to the tour, the report stated: “New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson would not confirm whether that was the threat that caused the tour to be abandoned, but noted the threat was credible and action needed to be taken.”
The Black Caps previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside the team’s hotel in Karachi that killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers. However, the international matches dried in the country following a 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.
Since the 2009 attacks, Pakistan have hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. But the cancellation of the New Zealand team’s tour is seen as a massive setback to the efforts for the revival of tours by foreign sides here.
The newly-elected Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board PCB, Ramiz Raja, admitted on Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure” and urged the players to “vent your frustration and anger by performing well”.
Raja, who warned on Friday that the board would take up the matter with the governing International Cricket Council (ICC), said in a statement that the country had the experience, resilience and the power to move forward.
“It’s an unfortunate scenario,” Raja said in a video posted on the board’s Twitter handle. “But we’ve faced similar situations in the past and have always overcome them. We’ve tremendous resilience... it’s a setback to staging international cricket in Pakistan but we’ll overcome this crisis too,” he added.
Raja advised the players to channel their anger and frustration into improving their performance. “My message to the team is – vent your anger and frustration through your performance on the field. If you become the best team in the world, others will queue up here to play you in Pakistan.”
Following the abrupt departure of New Zealand team, Pakistan now faces the risk of further tour cancellations. The England and Wales Cricket Board said they would decide on next month’s tours for their men’s and women’s teams by Sunday (today).
A Cricket Australia spokesman said they were monitoring the situation and gathering information from security experts before deciding to tour Pakistan in February and March next year—the team’s first tour to Pakistan since 1998.
(WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
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