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The New Zealand cricket team were preparing to leave Islamabad on Saturday, a day after they abandoned their tour of Pakistan due to a security alert that devastated the South Asian nation.
The move is a massive setback for Pakistan, which has tried to revive the tours of foreign teams after the suspension of local internationals following a 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team.
A Pakistani official, who requested anonymity, said the team and support staff were escorted to the capital’s airport from their five-star hotel in armored buses.
“A chartered flight came from the United Arab Emirates to pick up the New Zealand team,” said the official, who added that they were due to leave on Saturday evening.
The head of the Pakistan Cricket Board, meanwhile, urged his players to “vent their frustration and anger by playing well”, accepting that Pakistani cricket was under “a lot of pressure”.
“The point is that we have been through this before, but we have moved forward, we have resilience, we have power and it is thanks to the fans and our cricket team,” said newly elected Ramiz Raja in a statement. press release Saturday.
“If we can’t get out of this pressure, we have enough confidence and power that at our national level (that) we can make a team that beats the world,” he added.
New Zealand Cricket canceled their first tour of Pakistan in 18 years as the first one-day international was due to start Thursday in Rawalpindi.
They were to play three ODIs and five Twenty20 internationals on the tour.
“Following an escalation in levels of threat from the New Zealand government to Pakistan and advice from New Zealand Cricket security advisers in the field, it was decided that the BLACKCAPS would not continue the tour,” New Zealand said. Cricket in a press release.
But the country’s cricket officials have cast a veil of secrecy over the security threat that forced the abrupt cancellation.
– ‘Player safety is paramount’ –
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistani leader Imran Khan that the team feared an attack outside the stadium, according to Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad.
In a brief public statement, Ardern said his government supported the cancellation because “player safety must be paramount.”
A New Zealand cricket official told AFP that no further comment is expected “at this stage”, and will not say whether the security threat that caused the cancellation has been passed on to Pakistan Cricket Board or any other nation playing cricket.
The team interrupted a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team’s hotel in Karachi left 14 people dead, including 11 French naval engineers.
Pakistan, deeply frustrated by the last-minute pullout, has denied any security threat.
Security in the country has improved dramatically in recent years, but militant groups still operate along the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
The country now faces the risk of further tour cancellations.
The England and Wales Cricket Council has said they will decide on next month’s tours for their men’s and women’s teams by Sunday.
A Cricket Australia spokesperson said they were monitoring the situation and gathering information from security experts before deciding to travel to Pakistan in February and March next year.
Australia has not visited Pakistan since 1998 for security reasons.
© 2021 AFP