Terrorism in Lahore does not signal the end of cricket in Pakistan...but the entire subcontinent
Neil Trainis Cricket, like all sports, is supposed to be a mechanism for bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures together, for allowing them to put grievances to bed, at least for a while. Yet there is arguably no tougher place on earth to achieve that u
Cricket, like all sports, is supposed to be a mechanism for bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures together, for allowing them to put grievances to bed, at least for a while. Yet there is arguably no tougher place on earth to achieve that unity and respite than the subcontinent.
Pakistan, a country with a population in excess of 170,000,000 long regarded as one of the game's great superpowers, has seen much of its eminence erode in the 14- month period in which they were deprived of Test cricket there.
The last remnants of its prominence evaporated with the attack on the convoy carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team and match officials, as well as Pakistan police officers and drivers of the vehicles who perished in the attack.
Pakistan's neighbours have been ravaged by terrorism too. Bangledesh has endured its share of militant aggression, as has Sri Lanka, the only nation in the world prepared tour in the face of the threat of terrorist violence and who agreed to step into a breach vacated by India to play Pakistan. The events on Tuesday would have come as no shock to them.
Sri Lanka, after all, has had troubles to contend with on its own doorstep. For a quarter of a century or more, the authorities there have attempted to contain the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, a militant organisation that has waged violence in its bid to establish an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the country.
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The concept of terrorism is all too familiar to the Sri Lankan people and to the cricketers who sat on a bus as it approached a roundabout en route to the Gaddafi Stadium moments before it came under fire from 14 men armed with a rocket launcher, grenades and AK-47s.
Tharanga Paranavitana, the Sri Lanka batsman, was one of seven players hurt in the attack. His shirt was heavily stained with blood but, as his Australian coach Trevor Bayliss would later suggest, was "joking around as if nothing had happened" in the aftermath. Familiarity has bred an immunity to the shock impact of such attacks.
Chaminda Vaas, Ajantha Mendis, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Kumar Sangakkara and Suranga Lakmal were the other players who sustained injuries. If the terrorist attacks in Mumbai carried the implication that cricketers, indeed athletes across all sports, are not the target of extremist terror then the latest incident left no doubt; For the terrorists those in the public eye are ideal targets. The higher the profile of the victims the better for their cause.
As political instability spreads through the subcontinent like damp-rot there must be strong reservations as to whether international cricket, in the short-term, can be played there. It is certainly inconceivable that international cricket of any form will grace Pakistan again in the long run. They are due to co-host the 2011 World Cup but the International Cricket Council will inevitably strip them of that privilege.
The tournament is scheduled to be held between Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka but cricket's governing body will have to decide if all of those countries, not only Pakistan, are safe enough to stage a high profile event screened to millions of viewers across the world.
If the answer is negative then, tragically, there should be a switch of venue. That has to be a possibility, especially since the England and Wales Cricket Board are deliberating whether to host Australia's postponed Test series with Pakistan next July because of Cricket Australia's fears over security, exacerbated by the attack in Lahore.
Concerns surrounding the lack of control the authorities have over terrorist groups have fuelled the anxieties of nations who have refused to enter Pakistan in fear of the type of scenes in Gulberg which scarred cricket.
New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England have all resisted pressure to play there in recent years but now that anxiety has spread beyond Pakistan.
The Indian Premier League could also be thrown into doubt. Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach, is one influential figure who has added his voice to those who believe the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen should not play in that much-vaunted tournament.
For the terrorists the withdrawal of celebrated cricketers from a prestigious competition would be as great a success as pulling off their assassinations. To those with no regard for human life, the two are much the same thing so long as they provide their cause with publicity.
There have already been calls to switch the date of the IPL, due to run from April 10 to May 24, since the strain on security resources would be too great as it clashes with the general elections in India. Fear of bloodshed, however, may provoke many to consider abandoning the event rather than postponing it.
For the public of the subcontinent there has been, for decades, an innate fear for their safety. For the region's cricketing authorities, there is the fear that progress made in establishing a lucrative Twenty20 cricket product, not to mention honing a conveyor-belt of uniquely talented players, is unravelling.
Soon, no-one will want to travel to that part of the world to play or watch cricket. The mighty subcontinent, a leading player in world cricket, is slowly being gnawed at by the cancer of terrorism.