New Zealand players at Islamabad Airport waiting for chartered plane

By: News Desk      Published: 07:58 AM, 18 Sep, 2021
New Zealand cricketerrs
TV grab.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted permission to a special flight from the United Arab Emirates for landing at Islamabad Airport to fly back the New Zealand team players and officials after the Kiwis abandoned their bilateral cricket series against Pakistan, reported 24NewHD TV channel.

The New Zealand team and officials have now reached the Islamabad International Airport waiting for the chartered flight which will land at 5:00pm and will take off an hour later for New Zealand en route Dubai, sources said. 

The New Zealand team left their hotel for the airport in two separate convoys, apparently due to security reasons.  

The authorities had placed security arrangements outside the hotel in Islamabad Red Zone where the New Zealand cricket team was staying.

The sources said that Rangers, police, and security agencies had been deployed outside the hotel. 

New Zealand abruptly abandoned their tour of Pakistan on Friday citing a security alert in a massive blow to Pakistan’s hopes of staging regular international cricket.

New Zealand Cricket's mysterious silence

New Zealand Cricket officials on Saturday threw a veil of secrecy over the security threat that forced the abrupt cancellation of their Pakistan tour. 

According to Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistan leader Imran Khan that the team feared an attack outside the stadium.

The cancellation is a huge setback for Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terror attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009.

The announcement on Friday that the series had been called off came just as the first one-day international was due to start at Rawalpindi Stadium, 10 kilometres from the team hotel in Islamabad.

In a brief public statement, Ardern said the New Zealand government supported the cancellation as "player safety has to be paramount".

The foreign ministry, which has been in contact with New Zealand Cricket, said there was an "ongoing and significant threat from terrorism throughout Pakistan" but would not comment on specific security concerns.

"New Zealand Cricket makes its own security decisions and has its own security arrangements in place for all international tours," a ministry spokesman said.

When New Zealand Cricket first announced it was abandoning the Pakistan tour, it said the decision followed "a New Zealand government security alert" and advice from its own security advisers. 

The side previously cut short a tour in 2003 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.

A New Zealand Cricket official told AFP no further comment was planned "at this juncture" and would not say if the security threat that caused the cancellation had been passed to the Pakistan Cricket Board or any other cricket-playing nation.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has said it will decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also scheduled to tour in the next six months.

Pakistan's interior minister Ahmad was adamant there was "no threat to cricket in Pakistan, there was no threat to New Zealand and there is no threat to England".

New Zealand were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003 and were due to play three ODIs, followed by five Twenty20 matches.

'Killed Pakistan cricket'

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja expressed his dismay Friday at New Zealand's decision to abandon a limited-overs series over security concerns just as the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.

"Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it's not shared!!" tweeted Raja, appointed Monday as the new PCB chairman.

Raja, a former Pakistan captain, indicated the matter would be taken to the International Cricket Council.

"Which world is NZ living in?? NZ will hear us at ICC."

Pakistan and New Zealand, the world's top-ranked ODI team, were due to play three one-day internationals in Rawalpindi, followed by five Twenty20 matches in Lahore.

The tourists' decision to abandon the series came after "an escalation in the New Zealand government threat levels for Pakistan". 

Arrangements were being made for the team to leave the country, New Zealand Cricket said.

The Kiwis previously cut short a tour to Pakistan in 2002 after a bomb blast outside their team hotel in Karachi killed several French naval staff and Pakistanis.

New Zealand returned to Pakistan the following year but had not been back to play there since.

Friday's move was a massive setback to Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan side.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said it would decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month.

"Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan cricket fans," current Pakistan captain Babar Azam tweeted.

"I've full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies. They are our pride and always will be!"

Former fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar said "New Zealand just killed Pakistan cricket", pointing out that the country has safely hosted South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in recent years.

"We will rise from this. And soon... Not the first time we've been pushed against the wall. Unnecessary and uncalled for decision by Blackcaps," he wrote on social media.

Shoaib also referenced Pakistan's tour of New Zealand at the end of last year "in the worst of Covid circumstances regardless of the crude treatment by NZ authorities on that tour."

Mohammad Amir, who retired from international cricket in 2020 but has hinted at a possible return, suggested New Zealand's withdrawal was an "act (that) will bite you in future for sure".

West Indies' two-time T20 World Cup-winning captain Darren Sammy also voiced his disappointment over the abrupt cancellation of the series. "Over the last 6 years playing and visiting Pakistan has been one of the most enjoyable experiences. I've always felt safe," said Sammy, who played in the Pakistan Super League with Peshawar Zalmi before taking over as head coach last year.

With inputs from AFP.