Cricket: Blackcaps, Afghanistan test match to be played in neutral county, growing calls for New Zealand Cricket to cancel tour

There are growing calls for New Zealand Cricket to consider abandoning a controversial test match with Afghanistan later this year, not just for security, but moral reasons.  

Newshub can reveal that the Blackcaps' one-test tour to Afghanistan in September will be held in a neutral country, likely India or the UAE, due to player safety and security concerns.  

But at a time when other nations are refusing to play the Central Asian nation due to women's rights concerns, questions are being asked why NZC aren't taking a stance.  

"The game can probably do more to try and support these women and stand up to gender oppression," former England international Isa Guha said during last week's MCC Cowdrey Lecture.

And some cricketing nations are refusing to play the men's side, due to Afghanistan continuing to breach ICC criteria as the only ICC full member nation without a women's team.  

But, New Zealand isn't one of those currently taking a stand. NZ Cricket Players Association boss Heath Mills told Newshub the tour is something that he'd like to discuss with the governing body.  

"If we're going to be going on this tour, what are we doing to make sure we're playing our part in ensuring women can get a fair go and play cricket in Afghanistan?" Mills asked.  

"It's not sustainable in the long-term for the Afghanistan board not to promote, develop and put out a women's team. We would like to see that investment, that change happen, sooner rather than later."  

Trent Boult bowling action during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023.
Trent Boult bowling action during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023. Photo credit: Getty Images

Guha meanwhile acknowledged that while the women support the men's team and the hope it creates for the country, it's also "a damning reminder of the stark reality that they face, in that the world has turned their back on them".  

Mills knows it's been a challenging issue for many stakeholders in the sport, ever since the change in government in Afghanistan three years ago.  

"We understand the ICC position and that of the member boards, where they want to work with the Afghanistan Cricket Board, separate to government in that country, to try and help them grow the women's game. But at the end of the day, it's taking a long time."  

The Blackcaps have played Afghanistan four times, though this would be the first time outside of a World Cup, and the first time in a test.  

Last week, Australia postponed their T20 series in August citing "deteriorating human rights for women and girls in the country under Taliban rule".  

It's the third time they've taken such action. CA previously cancelled a one-off test match against Afghanistan that was scheduled to be played in Hobart in November 2021, while last year, they withdrew from a three-match ODI series due to be played in the UAE in March that year.  

Mills believes potential similar action, is something that needs to be put to New Zealand Cricket.  

"I think it's something we need to discuss with New Zealand Cricket. What is the position of cricket, here in New Zealand, what is the position of playing Afghanistan outside of ICC events.  

"Cricket Australia's decided to go down one road which is to not engage with them. I'm not sure that's the right answer, completely abandoning cricket in Afghanistan. We're never going to get any change if that happens."  

NZC denied Newshub's request for an interview on Tuesday, though it's understood the tour and any future engagement with Afghanistan will be discussed at a board meeting next week.  

Mills feels that could be crucial.  

"I would like to see New Zealand Cricket think about this issue and what signals they can be sending and what positions they can hold with Afghanistan Cricket, if we're going to continue to play them in the men's game."  

So that cricket really can be a sport for all.