ISLAMABAD: The New Zealand cricket team cancelled its tour of Pakistan on Friday, hours before the first match of Black Caps in the country in 18 years was due to start in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, citing security concerns.
“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 Black Caps will not continue with the tour,” New Zealand Cricket (NZC) posted on its website.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the tour had been cancelled “unilaterally” by NZC despite “foolproof security arrangements”.
"PCB is willing to continue the scheduled matches,” said a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) statement. “However, cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world will be disappointed by this last-minute withdrawal.”
The series was due to consist of three one-day international matches in Rawalpindi and five T20Is in Lahore.
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, who is on an official visit of Tajikistan, had spoken with his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern on Friday to reassure her of the team’s safety.
“Our intelligence agencies are among the best intelligence systems in the world and according to them the New Zealand team does not face any kind of threat,” Khan was quoted as telling Arden.
Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed also said the country’s security agencies had not received any threat of a possible attack against New Zealand’s cricket team.
David White, the NZC chief executive, said it was impossible to continue with the tour given the security advice he had been given.
“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,” he said.
PCB chairman Ramiz Raja expressed his disappointment over the situation, hinting at a possible protest to the International Cricket Council against NZC’s unilateral decision.
Pakistan bowling legend Shoaib Akhtar tweeted: “NZ just killed Pakistan cricket.” He added that New Zealand should remember that nine Pakistanis were killed in the Christchurch attack and that Pakistan stood strong with New Zealand.
Pakistan tried to convince NZ to play without spectators
The Pakistan government and security officials are understandably upset at Friday’s development as besides 4000 policemen, commandos of the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG) were also deployed for the matches in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan’s interior minister also said at a press conference that they had even tried to convince New Zealand Cricket to play the match without spectators. “But they did not agree to even this,” he disclosed.
The New Zealand team will fly out of Pakistan in a chartered flight on Saturday. PCB CEO Wasim Khan confirmed that a chartered flight will be coming to take the New Zealand team back home.
“It is a very sad thing that has happened today,” Khan said.