RAWALPINDI: A wave of frustration and disappointment has swept through social media with the hashtag #PAKvNZ becoming the top trend, as New Zealand on Friday abandoned its first Pakistan series in 18 years, citing security fears.
The announcement that the series had been called off came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Cap squad, which last week returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2003, was staying at an Islamabad hotel guarded by a heavy contingent of police.
The cancellation, which followed an unspecified New Zealand government security alert, left cricket fans and officials in dismay, with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed saying that "hidden hands conspired for the cancellation of the tour" to undermine Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region.
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja vowed action against the decision in the International Cricket Council (ICC).
"Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating," he said on Twitter. "Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC."
Many of Pakistan’s national team players also vented their upset.
"I've full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies," Pakistan captain Babar Azam said. "Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan Cricket Fans."
Veteran cricket legends, too, felt dejected, with Shoaib Akthar saying New Zealand "just killed Pakistan cricket.”
Wasim Akram suggested "we are not hearing the whole story."
“Pakistan has proven that our security measures for international games is of the highest order, making Pakistan one of the safest places in the world to play cricket today.”
As Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009, it has already managed to attract many foreign players since, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
"PSL & other teams visiting Pakistan is evidence of our hospitality & security arrangements. We will continue our efforts," bowler Shadab Khan wrote. "Pakistanis love cricket so much, we have worked really hard to bring cricket back here."
Former West Indies' skipper Daren Sammy, head coach of PSL's Peshawar Zalmi franchise, said he's been playing in Pakistan for the past six years: "I’ve always felt safe. this is a massive blow to Pakistan."
Officials, too, questioned New Zealand's move.
Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi tweeted at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardem saying he is “appalled” by her support of the team’s decision to leave. “Sadly, global politics has won over the great game of cricket!" he wrote. "There were no security threats!”
The chief minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar, the province that has the Rawalpindi stadium in its jurisdiction, said security was "foolproof."
"Extremely disappointed & gutted by New Zealand Cricket Board's unilateral decision to call off the series."
"The brief period of international cricket seems to be over before it really began,” sports journalist and culture critic Ahmer Naqvi tweeted.
But some others, like Islamabad United general manager Rehan Ulhaq, are more hopeful.
"Pakistan cricket will rise from the ashes just like it always has."