New Zealand abandons Pakistan cricket tour over ‘security alert’

New Zealand Cricket calls off the tour minutes before Rawalpindi match, the team’s first in Pakistan in 18 years.

A member of ground staff removes wickets at Pindi Cricket Stadium following the cancellation of the match, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan [Anjum Naveed/AP]

The New Zealand cricket team has called off its tour of Pakistan, minutes before the first match was due to begin in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, citing security concerns, both country’s cricket boards say.

New Zealand’s team was due to take on Pakistan in its first match on Pakistani soil for 18 years in Rawalpindi on Friday.

Minutes before the scheduled start of play, however, New Zealand Cricket (NZC) – the sport’s national board in that country – issued a statement saying it was “abandoning” the tour due to government security alert.

“[F]ollowing an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the Black Caps will not continue with the tour,” said the statement.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the tour had been cancelled “unilaterally” by NZC despite “foolproof security arrangements” made for the series, which was due to consist of three One Day International matches in Rawalpindi and five T20s in the eastern city of Lahore.

“PCB is willing to continue the scheduled matches,” said a PCB statement. “However, cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world will be disappointed by this last minute withdrawal.”

Pakistan’s information minister, meanwhile, said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had spoken with his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern on Friday to reassure her of the team’s safety.

“A short while ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan was in contact with New Zealand’s Prime Minister and reassured her that the New Zealand team was being provided foolproof security in Pakistan, and the PCB has said that the New Zealand security team had themselves expressed satisfaction with the Pakistani security arrangements,” said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

“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.”

In a statement, NZC chief executive David White 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.

The New Zealand Players Association also expressed confidence in the decision to abandon the tour.

NZC said that arrangements were being made for the New Zealand men’s cricket team to leave Pakistan.

The move will be seen as a blow to the Pakistan Cricket Board’s efforts to bring full international cricket with all teams back to Pakistan, after the country’s team was forced to play in exile for six years following a 2008 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Since 2015, when the Zimbabwean men’s cricket team held a historic tour to mark the return of international cricket to Pakistan, there have been several tours by other countries. In January, the South African team played the latest of those tours.

Questions now remain over whether the England men’s cricket team will continue with plans for its tour of the country next month.

Source: Al Jazeera