At 2.25pm on Friday 3rd September, the office was abuzz with the imminent first ball being bowled in what should have been the start of an historical ODI match between Pakistan (the hosts) and New Zealand, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
The fun and excitement on Friday morning was palpable, as my Pakistani colleagues and I talked about the series. Who might come out on top? “All bets are off” I said to a colleague, as the touring Kiwi side was a combination of their A & B squads. No-one was sure how the New Zealand team would fare after their poor performance against Bangladesh a couple of weeks earlier. Bangladesh won the series against the Kiwis, although the Blackcaps managed to clinch a win in the 5th and final match.
The New Zealand team and its entourage had been in Pakistan a week before their scheduled first game. For most of the young NZ squad, it was their first time to visit Pakistan, and experience first-hand the warmth, hospitality and generosity of the Pakistan Cricket Board, the Government, and the people of Pakistan.
I was in New Zealand when the tour was announced earlier this year, and rather than focus on the positives of Pakistan, its amazing cultures, culinary delights, sightseeing and other unique and wonderful experiences to be had in the country; the media (One News and News Hub in particular) focused on the unfortunate incident in Karachi in 2002, and interviewed retired members of the team and its entourage from those times. They had very little to contribute or add to the current tour in a positive way. The New Zealand Cricket Board, and its players did come to the defense of its decision to tour Pakistan, and at the time, felt it was a new beginning for international cricket. They were looking forward to the tour.
Also, it is well worth remembering, that earlier in 2021, Pakistan toured New Zealand in the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. In itself and on its own a health and security risk for Pakistan’s cricketers and their entourage.
I was living and working in Pakistan, when Zimbabwe, the first international cricket team return to Pakistan since 2009, toured in 2015. I was also here when Sri Lanka returned in 2019. Both international tours were a success. The security operations, while colossal by any stretch of the imagination, were reassuring for the safety of the teams, their entourages, fans and the general population of Pakistan, and the touring team’s fans, friends and families in their home countries.
What went so horribly wrong in Rawalpindi, on the morning of Friday 3rd of September, which caused the Blackcaps and the NZ Cricket Board, to take a unilateral decision and cancel the tour, hours before the first ball was bowled, and flee the country?
It’s a question I cannot answer, and neither will I attempt to do so. Simply because I do not know. I have read media reports, and seen social media debates and discussion, with their conjecture of misinformation and conspiracy theories. I subscribe to neither, and also think, that given the sensitive nature of the circumstances surrounding the event, one is wiser to maintain a circumspect view, and not fall victim to the imaginings of the mind.
But I do know that the decision has shocked the country, and left it traumatized. It shocked me. I couldn’t figure it out (and still cannot). The unfortunate actions by the New Zealand entourage on Friday 3rd of September, reinforced negative perceptions of Pakistan peddled in the West. This is very, very sad indeed.
In an age of ubiquitous social media use, the silence from the New Zealand squad was deafening. A few tweets from the team, a few instagram messages or videos to their Pakistani fans, expressing disappointment and regret, or even apologizing for a decision, obviously not in their hands, could have helped soften the blow. It has been a PR nightmare for everyone, but in particular for New Zealand, the Blackcaps, and international cricket. The concern remains on the ripple effect New Zealand’s actions will have on other Western international squads touring Pakistan.
What can I say to my Pakistani friends and colleagues? The Blackcaps may have fled Pakistan, but this Kiwi is staying put, and will do so; to continue to enjoy my work and life amongst the warm, hospitable, friendly and welcoming people of Pakistan.