The sudden decision of the New Zealand cricket team to cancel its tour has raised a storm of controversy amid a plethora of reports about conspiracies hatched by India and its allies to defame Pakistan.
According to initial reports, the New Zealand Cricket Council decided to call off their tour of Pakistan after receiving security threats which were issued by British intelligence agencies. Intriguingly, the security threats surfaced just 20 minutes before the toss for the first ODI.
However, according to a statement issued by the Pakistan Cricket Board, there were foolproof security arrangements made by Pakistan’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the touring party and they had assured the New Zealand cricketing authorities that there were no risks.
When the news broke, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke personally to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and assured her that Pakistan has one of the best intelligence systems in the world and there were no reports of any security threat to the visiting team. But despite the reassurances, the New Zealand team did not agree to play in Pakistan.
In view of the suspicious manner in which the New Zealand cricket tour was cancelled, questions have been asked whether the security threats were genuine or whether it was a plot to embarrass Pakistan and sabotage the return of international cricket to the country.
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have confirmed that the security threat was a hoax and the Kiwis had been provided with top-notch security, so there was absolutely no reason for the series to be called off.
The cat is now out of the bag. There are tell-tale signs of hostile forces which worked behind the scenes to create a smokescreen of security alarm. About a month ago, an article was published in an Indian newspaper, Sunday Guardian Live, which described in detail that New Zealand’s tour of Pakistan would be faced with security concerns. At the same time, a news outlet in New Delhi published an article titled “New Zealand cricket team may face terror attack in Pakistan” written by Abhinandan Mishra.
However, the New Zealand cricket team and consultants were satisfied with the security arrangements and decided to send their cricket team to Pakistan. The New Zealand team landed in Islamabad on September 11 and held several training sessions at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium. Their coach, Glenn Pocknall, told the media that the security arrangements were top-notch and the players felt comfortable in the country.
But the whole scene changed suddenly. According to some analysts, Pakistan is being targeted for its alleged role in Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan following the US withdrawal. India is particularly perturbed and resorting to underhand means to tarnish the image of Pakistan.
The latest reports confirm that India pressured New Zealand to call off the tour. A threatening email was sent to the New Zealand cricket squad from India, asking the Kiwis to call off their tour. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has disclosed that a fake post was created in August under Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan militant Ehsanullah Ehsan’s name which asked the New Zealand cricket board and the government to refrain from sending the team to Pakistan as it would be “targeted”. A few days later, a second threatening email was sent to the New Zealand team using the ID, Hamza Afridi. Intelligence investigations showed that the email was sent from a device associated with India.
In view of the threatening emails, with just 20 minutes to go for the toss in the first ODI, the New Zealand Cricket Council decided to abandon the tour, a move that has caused widespread disappointment among cricket lovers in Pakistan. The development has also caused dismay among cricket fans all over the world. Some well-known foreign cricketers have criticized the New Zealand Cricket Council for its poor decision, reminding it of the time when the Pakistan cricket team had visited their shores despite the Christchurch massacre in 2019, while New Zealand has decided not to play in Pakistan without there being any overt or covert threat.
The adverse impact of New Zealand’s unfortunate decision on Pakistan cricket cannot be overemphasized. It is feared that New Zealand tour cancellation may have a ripple effect and could leave Pakistan with little or no international cricket activity at home for quite some time. Already, England, which had agreed to send its men’s and women’s cricket team to Pakistan in October this year, has cancelled the tour. Australia is scheduled to visit Pakistan for a long-awaited cricket series, the first in almost two decades, next year. But the series too is now in doubt.
As a result of these developments, Pakistan cricket could find itself in the same situation as it was in the post-2009 period in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. It took several years before international cricket returned to Pakistan. Over the last few years, cricket teams from Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies have played in Pakistan, signaling a return of international cricket to the country. Professional cricket stars from around the globe have also been taking part in the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
Teams like New Zealand, England and Australia coming to Pakistan would have solidified Pakistan’s status as an international cricketing destination but all these plans are now in jeopardy. Cricket is very popular in Pakistan, a sport in which the country has won many international titles. Pakistan won the T20 World Cup in England in 2009 and is ranked among the favourite teams to regain the title later this year in the UAE.
In the given circumstances, the cricket authorities in Pakistan must find ways and means to ensure that future home ground cricketing events do not meet the same fate. To start with, we can invite teams from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the West Indies to play exhibition matches in Pakistan. It would send a positive signal to the rest of the cricket world that all is OK here and the cancellation of the New Zealand tour was a conspiracy and a blunder.