New Zealand await security reassessment as players raise concerns ahead of Pakistan tour

Published August 19, 2021
In this file photo, New Zealand's Martin Guptill, centre, arrives for a practice session ahead of the Cricket World Cup final match between England and New Zealand at Lord's cricket ground in London. — AP/File
In this file photo, New Zealand's Martin Guptill, centre, arrives for a practice session ahead of the Cricket World Cup final match between England and New Zealand at Lord's cricket ground in London. — AP/File

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Cricket officials are monitoring the situation to ensure the team’s safety during its tour of Pakistan next month after some players expressed concern over security after the Taliban’s takeover of neighbouring Afghanistan.

New Zealand agreed to undertake the Black Caps’ first tour of Pakistan in 18 years, with three One-day Internationals and five T20s scheduled for Rawalpindi and Lahore from September 17 to October 3. The unrest in Kabul is taking place 400km from Rawalpindi, where New Zealand are scheduled to play Pakistan in their opening match.

“I think everyone’s always keeping one eye on what’s happening over there but I have every confidence in NZCPA [New Zealand Cricket Players Association] and [New Zealand] Cricket that they’ll go through all of those measures and checks,” spinner Todd Astle said during the team’s preparatory camp in in Lincoln.

On Tuesday, New Zealand batting great Glenn Turner questioned whether NZC has its players’ best interests at heart by agreeing to tour Pakistan.

“Just when duty of care for athletes has become a hot topic, NZC announces a tour to Pakistan,” Turner, also a former New Zealand coach and selector, wrote in the Otago Daily Times newspaper.

“Pakistan is not only Covid-19 ravaged, currently averaging around 4500 reported cases daily, but even more concerning are the developments of Taliban successes in neighbouring Afghanistan.”

New Zealand are scheduled to arrive in Pakistan after a Twenty20 International series against Bangladesh, with the first of five matches to be played in Dhaka on September 1.

As many as seven frontline members of the T20 World Cup squad including captain Kane Williamson will be absent, at the rescheduled Indian Premier League, and a second-string 15-man New Zealand squad, under captain Tom Latham and stand-in coach Glenn Pocknall, is scheduled to leave Auckland on Monday night for Dhaka.

A spokesman for NZC said the team’s departure for its first tour since their World Test Championship final victory over India in June wouldn’t be affected despite New Zealand’s government announcing lockdown measures after a positive case of Covid-19 was confirmed.

“Players will be vaccinated and adhering to best-practice health protocols, including mask-wearing, social distancing and operating within biosecure bubbles. They will also be travelling on charter flights,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

It’s an altogether different story for the Pakistan tour, though, at this point in time.

“In terms of safety and security, NZC is in the process of conducting its normal pre-tour reconnaissance for Pakistan,” the spokesperson added. “We have a team on the ground now. As always, we will be guided by the advice we receive.”

NZCPA chief executive Heath Mills said team manager Mike Sandle and a security consultant were currently in Bangladesh to provide a final sign-off of security and Covid biosecurity arrangements. Then, next week, NZC’s longtime independent security consultant Reg Dickason would visit Pakistan for a detailed assessment of the situation there.

“We’re very comfortable with the process we’ve got, but notwithstanding that, with events in Afghanistan in the last few days, it’s very sad what’s happening in that country and people are obviously asking questions of our security check processes,” Mills said.

“That includes players, which is completely understandable. We just need to assure them of the process, and follow it, and reach a determination.”

Dickason accompanied New Zealand to Pakistan in 2002 when a fatal bomb blast outside their Karachi hotel on the morning of the second Test saw their tour cut short. They returned to play five ODIs in late 2003 without incident, but have not returned since due to security concerns.

Mills said Dickason would undertake the standard security check of every touring nation, as agreed between the NZCPA and NZC for the past 12 years.

“That will take him four or five days and then he’ll report back, and recommend whether the tour goes ahead, or it doesn’t for whatever reason... if there are changes to whatever the plan might be.”

Assuming the tour went ahead, Dickason would remain with the group, “and at any point if he’s uncomfortable he would communicate that and the team would exit Pakistan.”

Mills said if any players decided not to tour for safety reasons they could withdraw without fear of repercussions from NZC.

“Players will have that option,” Mills said. “If they are uncomfortable about touring anywhere they would be able to stay home and they’d be well supported by NZ Cricket and us in doing so.”

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021

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