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Security alert: New Zealand call off Pakistan tour minutes before first ODI

"Which world is NZ living in? NZ will hear us at ICC," tweets PCB chairman Ramiz Raja

New Zealand have called off their limited-overs tour of Pakistan citing security concerns, leaving the cricket community in Pakistan unimpressed. PCB chairman Ramiz Raja was especially critical of the New Zealand Cricket decision, saying, "Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it is not shared! Which world is NZ living in? NZ will hear us at ICC."
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 NZC 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.
Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister who spoke to Imran Khan, her counterpart in Pakistan, insisted that player safety had to be prioritised. "When I spoke with the prime minister of Pakistan, I conveyed our thanks for taking care of the New Zealand cricket team," she was quoted as saying by media back home in New Zealand. "I know how disappointing it will be for everyone that the game hasn't gone ahead, but we totally support the decision that's been made. Player safety has to be paramount."
The PCB responded with a statement indicating its 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 New Zealand's first tour to Pakistan in 18 years, after 2003. That series of ODIs was, in fact, the resumption of the 2002 tour, which had to be cancelled after an explosion near the hotel the New Zealanders were staying at in Karachi.
The cancellation of the tour will worry the PCB ahead of what is a busy home international season. England's men and women's teams are scheduled to visit next month, but given that the ECB use the same security consultants as NZC, questions will be raised. Over the course of the season, teams from the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand are all scheduled to visit Pakistan.
Heather Knight 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," she had said. "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. The New Zealand contingent has not yet commented on their departure arrangements and schedule.
International cricket in Pakistan had begun 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 desire to move all of its home series back to Pakistan from the UAE permanently.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000