Fans lament dark day for cricket as NZ team leaves

Memories of 2009 terror attack on Sri Lankan team cast shadow over international cricket in Pakistan once again

New Zealand (NZ) cricket team departing right before their match in Pakistan has left cricket fans both angry and despondent.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced on Friday that NZ’s Black Caps cited security concerns and cut their tour short wherein they were set to play three one-day international and five Twenty20 matches in the country.

The development resulted in disappointment and lamentation on part of cricket fans and players alike. Retired cricketer Shoaib Akhtar listed key points in a scathing response to NZ’s decision. Akhtar said that when Christ Church incident happened, Pakistan stood strong with NZ despite nine Pakistanis having lost their lives in the terror attack. Pakistan still toured NZ during the pandemic, said Akhtar. He added that the alleged security threat was ‘unverified’ and could have been relayed to authorities in Pakistan, but NZ chose not to heed to the PM’s assurance that the international team would remain safe.

Others like journalist Roha Nadeem also referenced NZ’s Christ Church attack and said that international players weren’t safe in NZ either as Bangladesh’s cricket team was mere minutes away and had to make a frantic escape when shots were fired.

The cricket community lamented the hit the sport took in Pakistan after NZ’s declaration. Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ramiz Raja said that he felt for Pakistani players and fans. He critiqued NZ for walking out of the tour ‘unilaterally’ without consultations on the security threat. Raja declared that Pakistan would have much to say to NZ at the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Cricketer Shan Masood said that the sudden move was ‘extremely disappointing’ despite Pakistan providing high-level security to the team.

Another cricketer, Shaheen Shah Afridi had no words to describe his dismay. He insisted that Pakistan had the best security details and many international teams had completed their tours successfully.

Politicians also chimed in and expressed their despondency. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) member Mohammad Zubair said there was no cause to leave hastily after already being in Pakistan for six days. He said that Pakistan should protest at the highest level.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was ‘gutted’ at the news and said that Punjab had always provided ‘foolproof security’ to foreign players.

The uproar wasn’t limited to Pakistan as international cricket players also expressed their disapproval of NZ’s departure.

West Indies cricketer Daren Sammy was disappointed and said that he always felt safe when he played in Pakistan. He called the incident a ‘massive blow to Pakistan’.

Sri Lankan cricketer Daniel Alexander noted that his country had played multiple times in Pakistan. Other countries like South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh & Zimbabwe also played safely. Alexander added that NZ itself previously played uneventfully, which was all possible because Pakistan was safe for cricket.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had spoken with Prime Minister Imran Khan on the matter. The PM apprised Ardern on the security measures for her national team. Chaudhry said that NZ was satisfied with Pakistan’s intelligence who gave the team top notch security. Nevertheless, Ardern exercised caution and insisted on suspension of the tour.

Cricket in Pakistan has often been marred by security concerns. In 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was targeted by terrorists as their minivan drove towards Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Several players were injured, while six policemen and two civilians were killed in the attack. The incident cast a dark shadow on Pakistan as international cricket did not return to the country for several years.