For any right thinking person , the first two reactions to the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore are relief and sorrow. Relief that the cricketers themselves came through almost unscathed. (It could have been much , much worse. ) Sorrow that eight Pakistani police personnel lost their lives in the attack. But, now that the initial shock is over, the implications of the attack and what it will mean to the future of cricket , world cricket , are coming to the fore.
For Pakistani cricket , it is almost a death knell. Even before the attack, several foreign teams had expressed their security concerns and pulled out of touring Pakistan. Now , with their fears having proved well founded , no foreign team is going to tour Pakistan in the foreseeable future , if ever. The Pakistan team may play it’s Test matches at neutral venues in the Middle East but it’s not nearly the same. Without foreign tours , domestic cricket will be hard put to sustain public interest and is bound to atrophy.
Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop there. Already, questions are being raised about security at upcoming sporting events in the sub-continent. The first to be affected is the IPL’s second season which was due to start next month. Then there are the CommonWealth games scheduled for 2010 in New Delhi and , the big one for cricket fans … the Cricket World Cup in 2011.
The IPL is already being re-scheduled so as not to clash with the general elections and I expect it will go ahead though some big names will opt out. ( Ricky Ponting had already indicated that the would not be playing because the IPL schedule conflicted with his other commitments and Adam Gilchrist is adopting a wait and see attitude.) Not to sound cynical, but the money is too good to pass up. Even if some stars withdraw, there are many others to take their places. Security will be ramped up and the matches will go on though they may be played in half empty stadiums. As time passes and fears recede, I expect that the CommonWealth Games and the World Cup will also be staged as scheduled though the World Cup poses some special problems.
The Cricket World Cup matches were to be staged in various venues in the three countries of the sub-continent. After Lahore, we can forget about any of the matches being staged in Pakistan. Ditto SriLanka, where the Tamil Tigers are on the ropes but are yet capable of doing harm.All the matches will have to be staged in India and , from the spectators point of view, they are not going to be nearly as much fun to attend. Because of security concerns, there will be multiple security checks and a long walk to the stadium. Considering the fact that the stadiums are not nearly as spectator friendly as those say in Australia or South Africa, it adds up to long days in the sun. Cricket mad Indian fans may put up with all this but will others ?
Ealier this week, I was watching a food / travel show with Anthony Bourdain. He was in SriLanka and , while he had lots of nice things to say about the country , the constant presence of gun-toting army men in the streets and parks wore on him . It was only when he was away from the repressive atmosphere during trips to the interior that he was able to enjoy himself. His experience in Colombo will be what spectators at the World Cup can expect and it is bound to prey on their minds. Will they still be able to enjoy their cricket ? Almost, Almost, I wish that the World Cup is shifted to another location , such as S.Africa or England where spectators can enjoy the matches in peace. It’s not going to happen , of course. India , and he BCCI will fight tooth and nail to keep the tournament at it’s present locations and it’s understandable that they would do so. Aside from the money and the prestige of staging the World Cup, the pitches of the sub-continent are a distinct advantage for the home team.
There are two other aspects of the Lahore attack that invite comment.
One is the impunity with which the gunmen struck. I’m sure all of have seen the video footage of the attackers moving unimpeded through the deserted parks near the roundabout and firing at will. That they were able to then discard their weaponry and melt away without being apprehended points to a colossal failure of security. There are lots of questions being asked .. Why was the Pakistani team bus 5 minutes behind the SriLankans bus ? What happened to the armed commandos who were to provide protection ? How did the attackers know where and when to strike ? etc…and I don’t know when they will be answered, if ever. Suffice it to say that Chris Broad, Simon Taufel and the other survivors have a right to question the security set-up.
The other issue: In the aftermath of the attack, Pakistani captain Younis Khan bemoaned it’s repercussions for Pakistani cricket and implored cricketing nations not to allow Pakistan to be isolated. His concerns are understandable but his appeal is going to fall on deaf ears ,as it should. Why should foreign cricketers risk their lives to play cricket in Pakistan after what happened ? I wonder if Younis would feel the same if he had been under fire and seen his driver shot and killed and his team mates wounded.
I can’t help thinking of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November. For the longest time, Pakistan smugly denied that it’s nationals had anything to do with the attack even in the face of incontrovertible proof. It is only recently that , under intense pressure from America and the international community, that it has grudgingly admitted what we have known all along. The Lahore attack is the culmination of long years of toleration of and collaboration with the extremist elements and it has now come home to roost. Lie down with dogs and get up with fleas. This is a self created problem and only Pakistan itself can solve it. For their sakes, for all our sakes, I hope that they do. Otherwise the consequences could be devastating , and not just for the game of cricket.