England tours of Pakistan on knife edge after New Zealand pull out of country

The England and Wales Cricket Board will spend the weekend deciding whether to cancel next month’s tours of Pakistan after New Zealand abandoned their current visit to the country citing security advice.

The Black Caps were due to begin the first of eight white-ball internationals in Rawalpindi on Friday afternoon but instead called off the tour at the 11th hour, with players told to stay in their hotel rooms and prepare for a flight home.

A statement from New Zealand Cricket read: “[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 Black Caps will not continue with the tour.”

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The Pakistan Cricket Board stressed this was a “unilateral” decision taken by their guests and came despite Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, directly contacting his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, to assure her that local intelligence has detected no such threat.

A statement from the PCB read: “PCB and Govt of Pakistan made foolproof security arrangements for all visiting teams. The security officials with the NZ team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the government of Pakistan throughout their stay here.”

The tour was New Zealand’s first to Pakistan since 2003 and, along with extending this 18-year absence, the decision will have sent shockwaves through the two England teams that are due to fly out to Rawalpindi next month.

Eoin Morgan’s men are down to play back-to-back Twenty20 internationals on 14 and 15 October as part of their preparations for the World Cup campaign that starts in the United Arab Emirates the following week, while Heather Knight’s women’s side are due to play two T20s and three ODIs.

It is England’s first visit to Pakistan since 2005 and was arranged as a show of gratitude towards the PCB; along with West Indies, Ireland and Australia, their men’s Test side agreed to play in the UK last summer, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, thus helping English cricket avert a £300m loss.

But now that goodwill will be put to the test by New Zealand’s decision, with an ECB spokesperson saying: “We are liaising with our security team who are on the ground in Pakistan to fully understand the situation. The ECB Board will then decide in the next 24-48 hours whether our planned tour should proceed.”

While the ECB may take a different stance to their New Zealand counterparts and decide the tour remains viable, its fate may yet hinge on the players; the view of Morgan, the all-powerful men’s captain who previously opted to miss the 2016 tour of Bangladesh due to security concerns, will likely be key.

Either way, the decision by New Zealand represents the latest disruption to the international calendar, with the ECB still counting the cost of last week’s abandoned fifth Test at Old Trafford after an outbreak of Covid-19 among India’s backroom staff saw their players pull out of the match.