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New Zealand men abandon Pakistan tour after 'government security alert'


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New Zealand's men team have abandoned their tour of Pakistan following a New Zealand government "security alert".

The Black Caps were due to play Pakistan in the first of three one-day internationals in Rawalpindi on Friday before moving to Lahore for a five-match Twenty20 series.

England's men's and women's teams are due to play in Rawalpindi next month and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said it will decide "in the next 24-48 hours" whether the matches will go ahead.

The men and women are scheduled to play double-header T20 internationals on 13 and 14 October before the women's side play three ODIs on 17, 19 and 21 October.

New Zealand's decision to abandon their tour came after "an escalation in the New Zealand government threat levels for Pakistan".

New Zealand Cricket (NZC) has said it will not comment on the details of the security threat with plans being put in place for the team to return home.

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

In December 2019, Pakistan played a Test at home for the first time since the Sri Lanka team bus was attacked in 2009.

With international teams opting not to tour because of security fears, Pakistan have played the majority of their 'home' matches since 2009 in the United Arab Emirates, often in front of sparse crowds.

Pakistan assured New Zealand Cricket of 'fool-proof security arrangements'

In a statement, the PCB said that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan - a former Pakistan cricket captain - had spoken to his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern and told her that "no security threat of any kind exists for the visiting team".

"Earlier today, New Zealand Cricket informed us they had been alerted to some security alert and have unilaterally decided to postpone the series," the statement said.

"Pakistan Cricket Board and the Pakistan government made fool-proof security arrangements for all visiting teams. We have assured New Zealand Cricket of the same.

"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 security officials with the New Zealand team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the Pakistan government throughout their stay here.

"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."

Ardern said her government "totally support the decision that's been made", adding: "Player safety has to be paramount."

Pakistan captain Babar Azam tweeted: "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."

In a series of posts on social media, former Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar said: "New Zealand just killed Pakistan cricket". He also highlighted that the country had safely hosted tours by South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Ex-West Indies cricketer Darren Sammy, who has played and coached in the Pakistan Super League for the past six years, also spoke of his disappointment with New Zealand's decision, saying he had "always felt safe".

PCB chairman Rameez Raja said: "Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it's not shared. NZ will hear us at ICC (International Cricket Council)."

An ECB statement said: "We're aware of New Zealand's decision to pull out of the Pakistan tour due to a security alert.

"We are liaising with our security team who are on the ground in Pakistan to fully understand the situation. The ECB board will then decide in the next 24-48 hours whether our planned tour should proceed."

Last week, the final Test between England and India at Old Trafford was called off at the last minute after the tourists reported a number of Covid-19 cases within their camp, while England have postponed their own planned tour of Bangladesh to 2023.

Analysis

by BBC Urdu's Syed Abid Muhammed Hussain

When I was driving to the Rawalpindi stadium today, I kept thinking about how 18 years ago New Zealand had to end their fateful tour in 2002 because of a bomb blast across from their hotel in Karachi.

As I arrived at the stadium, I could see a throng of passionate fans with their faces painted, holding Pakistani flags and queuing up to get inspected by the security officials. It was then I received a call from my colleague informing me the match had been postponed.

The reason, I was told, was that a "couple of players had contracted Covid".

Immediately, social media was fired up, timelines scrolled, messages checked, and for at least first 15-odd minutes, it was difficult to ascertain how many players had caught Covid, which teams they belonged to and how many matches would be affected.

I could see lots of pickets set up and manned by officials of Punjab police, as well as large police vehicles and some officers wearing riot gear, but there was no hint of any urgency or panic.

It almost appeared that at that point in time, with the toss less than 30 minutes away, neither the fans nor police knew about the fate of the game, and were just milling about.

And then, the news arrived and what followed was a torrent of news, conspiracies and emotional responses on social media.

For the next few days this cricket-mad nation will obsess about nothing but how this decision is an "insult" and how the Kiwis could have not acted so hastily.

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