A ball hasn’t been bowled in Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand yet, but the series, comprising three Twenty20 Internationals and two Tests, has already made a lot of news, all for the wrong reasons. The tour was plunged into uncertainty after as many as seven members of the touring party tested positive for coronavirus within days of entering New Zealand. The host country, which now has virtually no cases of local transmission, has alleged several cases of breaching the quarantine protocol, going as far as to say that the tourists could be sent home if they didn’t adhere strictly to the regulations.
The Pakistan team underwent four rounds of testing before leaving their country, and only those individuals who tested negative were allowed to board the flight. In fact, left-handed batsman Fakhar Zaman was left out of the squad after he developed fever and other Covid-like symptoms, even though his test returned negative.
However, six of the 53 members of the touring party – Sarfaraz Ahmed, Rohail Nazir, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Abid Ali and Danish Aziz – tested positive on their arrival in New Zealand on November 24. Assistant coach Shahid Aslam also returned a positive test result. An additional individual did so in routine Day 3 testing at a managed isolation facility in Christchurch.
How did the hosts react?
The New Zealand authorities have taken a “very dim view of it”, according to Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director-general of health. They said that the Pakistan visitors indulged in mixing in hallways, sharing food, and not wearing masks at all times – clear breach of the isolation protocols. The squads training privileges were also revoked, pending an assessment by health officials. The host government gave them a “final warning” that any more breaches will result in the tour getting cancelled.
New Zealand Cricket said in a statement: “We will be having discussions with the tourists to assist them in understanding the requirements.” 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
How did the PCB react?
The Pakistan Cricket Board got into immediate fire-fighting mode. CEO Wasim Khan, while empathising with the players who had to stay in a bio-secure bubble during the tour to England earlier this year as well, said “this is a matter of the nation’s respect and credibility.”
“Observe these 14 days and then you’ll have the freedom to go to restaurants and roam about freely. They have told me in clear terms that if we commit one more breach, they’ll send us home,” ESPNCricinfo quoted Khan as saying in a Whatsapp message to the Pakistan players.
What has been the reaction in Pakistan?
Some in Pakistan have taken the developments as an affront to their country, alleging that New Zealand has mistreated their players and disrespected the nation.
Shoaib Akhtar has been the most prominent former player to express outrage and argued on his YouTube channel that New Zealand should be indebted to Pakistan for undertaking the tour during the pandemic so that the hosts could earn broadcast money.
“It’s not a club team. It’s the national team of Pakistan – the greatest country on this planet,” the former speedster said.
“Behave yourself, and stop giving these types of statements. Be careful (about) what you say next time. I’m deeply hurt, frustrated and angry,” Akhtar added, saying that PCB should have not taken the Kiwi statements lying down. “They should have called back the team themselves and decided not to play against New Zealand for five years.”
After counselling the Pakistan players to be more careful in what they do, he chided PCB for not sending the touring party in a direct charter flight to New Zealand, as was done for the England tour. Apparently, the squad went from Pakistan to Dubai, then to Kuala Lumpur, before landing in Auckland, increasing the risk of exposure on the way.
He said there should’ve been clarity beforehand on where the players would spend their quarantine. He took exception to the fact that the Pakistan players were kept in a facility where there were other people housed as well.
What is likely to happen now?
If there had been more than just one positive result in the latest round of Covid tests, there would have been a bigger cause of concern, especially for PCB.
The six players and assistant coach who tested positive on arrival will join the squad after completing their 14-day quarantine in Auckland.
The rest of the squad will undergo two more tests, on the sixth and 12th days of their isolation before they can leave quarantine. According to ESPNCricinfo, those who test negative throughout can go to the balconies of their rooms and visit a nearby park.
Whether or when they are allowed to train in isolation, however, is subject to the decision of the local health authorities.
The three T20Is are on December 18, 20 and 22, before the Test series starting December 26.
Is this the first instance of a touring team breaching protocols?
No. The West Indies team are also in New Zealand currently, and they too were barred from training during their managed isolation period after they were found to have shared food and socialised in the hallways of their hotel. This apparently happened after the two bubbles of 20 people each, who were supposed to train separately, mixed, “compromising the bubble’s integrity.”
Cricket West Indies were left red-faced and coach Phil Simmons had to apologise. “I have to apologise to the New Zealand public and the government who have allowed us to come here. It’s embarrassing from our point of view,” he told Newshub.
The team lost four days of training, and it may have resulted in them being less sharp for the T20Is against New Zealand, as they have lost the first two games of a three-match series.
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