THERE was chaos and despair when New Zealand decided to call off their tour of Pakistan barely minutes before the scheduled start of the ODI series in Rawalpindi on Friday. After all, this tour had been 18 years in the making. But, unlike in 2002, when they had to cut short a visit following a bomb blast outside their hotel in Karachi that killed 11 French engineers amongst others, this time New Zealand pulled out because of a threat that was unknown to Pakistan’s security agencies.
Perhaps its concerns were rooted in its past trauma and the fear of cross-border militancy following Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban. However, New Zealand did visit Pakistan the next year to complete the series. Six years later, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers’ bus in Lahore made Pakistan a no-go country for international teams. Things have improved since then and international cricket has returned to the country which has safely hosted South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in recent times. But uncertainty may continue as long as the situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. One hopes it won’t affect England’s scheduled tour in October.
Independent security consultants had given New Zealand the all-clear to tour Pakistan. New Zealand had even attended training sessions at the Pindi Cricket Stadium; their team was given the level of security usually reserved for visiting heads of state, including armed guards escorting their bulletproof buses. Prime Minister Imran Khan gave all the assurances he could to his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Arden, yet they did not change their mind. In fact, Pakistan itself toured New Zealand after the 2019 massacre at two mosques in Christchurch by a lone gunman — several Bangladesh players had a narrow escape.
The new Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja has said that the issue will be raised at the International Cricket Council. But, going by past experience, there is little chance of Pakistan getting any comfort there. They might be able to recover from the financial impact of the series’ cancellation, but the reputation and sporting damage has already been done. As things stand, Pakistan seem likely to be heading to October’s Twenty20 World Cup without any competitive matches. And if New Zealand can be spooked by what has since then emerged to be a routine threat advisory by Rawalpindi’s IG Police, the PCB should harden its stance when it sends teams for tours abroad.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2021