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New Zealand call off Pakistan tour minutes before first ODI citing security concerns



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NZC chief executive David White: "Player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option" AFP/Getty Images

Agencies, Sept. 17: New Zealand has called off their limited-overs tour of Pakistan citing security concerns, leaving fans of the sport as well as the PCB unimpressed.

The tour, comprising three ODIs and five T20Is, was supposed to start today, with the first ODI in Rawalpindi, but neither team left their hotel on the morning of the game, and spectators were not allowed to enter the stadium.

After a period of uncertainty, as details regarding the cause of the delay were awaited, a New Zealand cricket statement was issued, saying, "Following 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 Blackcaps will not continue with the tour."

The New Zealand contingent in Pakistan is now preparing to leave the country.

"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 in the statement.

The PCB responded with a statement indicating their unhappiness at what it called a "unilateral" decision.

"Earlier today, the New Zealand cricket board informed us that they had been alerted to some security alert and have unilaterally decided to postpone the series," the statement said. "PCB and Govt of Pakistan made foolproof security arrangements for all visiting teams. We have assured the New Zealand cricket board of the same. The 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 security officials with the NZ team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the Govt of Pakistan throughout their stay here."

On the subject of "foolproof security", there was a significantly heavier security cover in the approach to the Rawalpindi stadium than has perhaps been in evidence since cricket trickled back into the country. Roadblocks had been set up miles from the stadium several hours ahead of time, and security searches were extensive. The New Zealand squad had landed in Islamabad on September 11 and had since held three training sessions in the run-up to the first ODI. Both the teams were staying in a hotel that, with all security protocols in place, was about a 15-minute drive away from the ground.

This was the first tour to Pakistan by a New Zealand side in 18 years, after an ODI series in 2003. That series itself was a continuation of the 2002 visit by New Zealand which was cancelled after an explosion at the hotel they were staying at in Karachi.

The abrupt decision to leave will leave Pakistan cricket worrying, ahead of what is a busy home international season. England's men and women's teams are due to visit next month, but given that the ECB use the same security consultants, there will be questions about those tours. Over the course of the season, West Indies, Australia and the New Zealand women's team are all scheduled to come to Pakistan. Pakistan captain Babar Azam said in a tweet he was "extremely disappointed" by what he called an "abrupt" decision to cancel the series.

Heather Knight, England women's captain, had said a few days ago that they were expecting a security update on the Pakistan tour, which is due to coincide with the England men's planned white-ball tour and feature double-headers for two T20Is in Karachi.

"Things are obviously changing very quickly at the moment but we're still in conversation or just waiting on a few things to try and work out what's going to happen. So hopefully, things are deemed safe. That's out of my hands and the team's hands and it's up to the people above to make those decisions but we're in constant conversations and that will progress, I'm sure, in the next few weeks."

The Pakistan team will disperse this afternoon. New Zealand has refused to comment on their departure arrangements and schedule.

International cricket in Pakistan had begun to return with relative frequency over the past few years. Since the 2017 PSL final was held in Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and South Africa have all visited for T20Is, ODIs and Tests, with each tour going off without a security hitch. Eight PSL games were held in Karachi in 2018, and the entire tournament took place in Pakistan in 2019. Since Sri Lanka played a Test series in Pakistan in 2019, the PCB indicated its willingness to move all of its home series back to Pakistan from the UAE permanently. This tour of New Zealand was the start of a busy home season that includes visits by both England's men's and women's sides, as well as West Indies and Australia.