Pick an emotion. You are probably feeling it right now.
It is a sad time for global cricket.
Conspiracy theories are running rampant.
RAW sent a threat to honour Modi’s birthday and have the tour cancelled. The BCCI are pressuring NZ players. Something about white people not respecting brown people. And on it goes.
But if we cut through all of the crap, there are a few things that hold true.
Firstly, the New Zealand camp got spooked by something tangible. And they felt their safety was at risk.
No amount of scary men with rifles, no amount of Imran Khan phone calls to Jacinda Ardern and no amount of assurances will change how they feel.
It doesn’t matter how you perceive it. It only matters what the New Zealand squad are feeling.
Secondly, we don’t have all the facts.
I’ve spoken to many people close to this. There is very little corroboration between sources. We don’t know what the threat was. We don’t know when it was received or who it was aimed at. We don’t know which intelligence agencies spoke to whom in the murky world of security. Did someone at the PCB know?
What if their families were threatened if they played the match? How would Pakistani security protect them in that instance?
At the moment it is all just speculation.
So through this lens, firing shots at the Kiwis for leaving is definitely premature and may ultimately prove to be unfair.
Yes, Pakistan will suffer financially. But it won’t bankrupt them. Yes, Pakistani pride is hurt. But don’t let that blind you from being objective.
In New Zealand, safety is not something you think about much. There aren’t military checkpoints or Rangers in the street or Black Vigos with turret guns on the back in plain sight. Compare that with Pakistan were the populous has become overwhelmingly accepting of this type of world as the norm.
The latest data I could find showed that there were 300 terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2019. This is not something a typical New Zealander would find normal. I raise this to illustrate that for the Kiwi team to travel to Pakistan, they would have had to overcome so strong perception issues.
Their families and friends would have asked “are you sure you want to go there? It isn’t safe”. They would have raised the harbouring of bin Laden in a military town. They would have raised the fact that Gadaffi Stadium is named after a guy that blew up a plane over the UK. Daniel Pearl. Imran Khan speaking in favour of the Taliban. India sending in MiG-21s to bomb madrassas. Radicalised Islam. Exotic diseases. All the scary stuff.
Again, it doesn’t matter what your thoughts about these issues are.
For someone not close to Pakistan, these are some of the perceptions that ring true. I know this because in my travels, these conversations fire up every time I’ve travelled there.
Let us not forget that the New Zealand squad got through all these perceptions and negative influences, jumped on a plane and made it to Pakistan. They wanted to play. There was no reason to travel all that way just to leave.
But something has happened and this moment in time, you and I do now know what.
It is extremely disappointing to see PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja’s tweet on the matter.
When the PCB needed to show leadership, its main man played for the crowd.
Has he forgotten he is no longer a YouTube star and now holds a position of authority and decorum? Threatening NZ with some kind of ICC intervention, and challenging the NZ thought process in public is totally unbecoming of the Chairman’s role.
Ramiz has dramatically failed here.
Shoaib Ahktar took it one step further.
Did they? Did they really?
Other players and administrators have also tweeted unhelpful things.
Mohammad Rizwan tried to downplay it by calling it a “so called threat”. Jani, I’d suggest the threat was a little more substantial than that. Grown men don’t just up and leave for no reason.
The Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed called it a “conspiracy”. You can only laugh at the popularism of these messages.
There are many many more. Just take a look at the PCB’s official Twitter account. They are showcasing all of these inflamatory views.
Unfortunately in some areas, the PCB and its officers still act like children in a crisis.
Pakistan has made massive steps forward in recent years. I first visited the country in 2017. There were no gora tourists back then. It was perceived as unsafe.
But in my experience, and of the 60 odd countries I’ve been lucky enough to visit in my lifetime, I felt it one of the safest.
I walked streets, visited the markets, played tape ball cricket and even drove a rickshaw.
Heck, the only unsafe thing I encountered was when I found out my anday wala burger had khota in it.
However, my experience is not necessarily the experience others will have.
Since 2017, the World XI came, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka came. The PSL attracted over 35 international players in 2020 and 2021.
The English men’s and women’s teams have planned a tour. Whether this final one plays out is yet to be seen.
But clearly for some, travelling to Pakistan is not an easy decision to make. In 2018, Shane Watson told me he wouldn’t travel to Pakistan for the PSL Finals. His wife wasn’t comfortable.
In 2020, he made the trip. Perceptions are slowly changing.
For many of the Kiwi touring party, this was their first trip to Pakistan. Exciting for them, but like most when you travel to a place for the first time, you are a little wary. However, something got to them and they were afraid. They feared for their safety. They are now on their way home.
And ultimately, that is all that matters. They didn’t feel safe.
You could argue that they had VVIP protocols and therefore nothing would have happened to them.
I experienced these protocols firsthand at PSL 5. They are great. But they aren’t foolproof. I stayed in three different hotels during my stay and all three still had normal guests and random people floating around the foyers and floors.
In time, the facts will come out. We will be able to piece together the timeline of events, the decisions made and make judgement.
But until that time comes, expressing outrage through hashtags, tweeting stupid nationalistic messages, threatening boycotts and the like is all unhelpful.
Does this throw Pakistani cricket back into the dark ages? Will everyone now refuse to travel? Will the UAE become home base again?
I don’t think so.
The challenge for Pakistan here is to not focus on the fact that New Zealand left.
Instead, focus on the why. Understand that. Learn from that. Help the next team not experience the same.
Because if Pakistan can’t or won’t do that, it risks this happening again.