LAHORE: The entire country was taken aback on Friday when New Zealand pulled out of its cricket series against Pakistan over security concerns just minutes before the first one-day international between the teams was due to start at the Rawalpindi Stadium. “Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from (New Zealand Cricket) security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the Black Caps will not continue with the tour,” New Zealand Cricket (NZC) said in a statement. Arrangements are being made for the visiting team to leave the country. The trouble began when the first ODI of the white ball series could not begin on time at the Rawalpindi Stadium yesterday with both teams remaining in their hotel rooms. NZC chief executive David White then issued a statement to say that it was simply not possible to continue with the tour given the advice he was receiving. “I understand this will be a blow for the PCB, who have been wonderful hosts, but player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option,” he stated in a press release. New Zealand Cricket Players Association chief executive Heath Mills echoed White’s sentiments. “The players are in good hands; they’re safe and everyone’s acting in their best interests,” Mills said. The decision has given a massive setback to Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terror attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009. International cricket has been slowly revived over the past two years. The Sri Lankan cricket team were the first to return to Pakistan in 2019, while South Africa visited for a tour in January after a 14 year gap. The Black Caps had landed in Pakistan for the first time since 2003, after 18 years, and were due to play three ODIs in Rawalpindi, followed by five Twenty20 internationals in Lahore. They previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a bomb blast outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 French naval staff. Pakistan did host series against the Black Caps in the United Arab Emirates in 2009, 2014 and 2018. Unilateral decision: The Pakistan Cricket Board said New Zealand had made the decision unilaterally. “The PCB is willing to continue the scheduled matches,” it said in a statement. “The security officials with the New Zealand team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the Pakistan Government throughout their stay here,” the PCB statement continued. “The Pakistan Prime Minister spoke personally to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and informed her that we have one of the best intelligence systems in the world and that no security threat of any kind exists for the visiting team.” The PCB said it was willing to continue the scheduled matches. “However, cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world will be disappointed by this last minute withdrawal.” Newly appointed Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ramiz Raja said New Zealand would have to answer for the pullout at the International Cricket Council (ICC). “Crazy day it has been! Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared!! Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC,” he tweeted. There was an outpouring of frustration over New Zealand’s decision. “Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan cricket fans,” the captain of the Pakistan side Babar Azam tweeted. Security analysts said Pakistan had made huge efforts to secure the safety of the New Zealand team. A security delegation from New Zealand last month inspected arrangements in Pakistan and it was only after their clearance the tour was given a go-ahead. Most of the squad arrived on Saturday and Sunday with a level of security usually reserved for visiting heads of state that included armed guards escorting their bulletproof buses. Their Islamabad hotel has been guarded by a heavy paramilitary and police contingent. Pakistan are due to host England for two Twenty20 internationals next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also to tour in the next six months. All three tours may now be in jeopardy.