Cricket becoming casualty of terrorism
By Rizwan Ali
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The attacks in India are the latest challenge to the future of international cricket in Asia.
Pakistan, hit by a spate of bombings, will finish 2008 without playing a single cricket test. Sri Lanka’s civil war has been going for more than 25 years and shows no sign of abating.
Now, more than 150 people in Mumbai are dead. The England cricket team’s India tour has been suspended, as the sport finds itself threatened in a region containing four of the nine test-playing nations.
"Pakistan is already struggling without tours and India has had to cancel two tournaments," former Sri Lanka captain Hashan Tillakaratne said. "With these bombings, cricket may come to a standstill."
The other five countries with the International Cricket Council’s elite test status — Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies — have been reluctant of late to visit the subcontinent.
"If the message (of terrorists) is accepted then the pressure will build up," said Zakir Hussain Syed, a cricket columnist. "For the masses, cricket is a recreational oxygen in the subcontinent."
The English squad was preparing to leave India on Friday, two days after the attacks began. Two dozen commandos from Karnataka state’s special action force cordoned off the arrival lounge at the Bangalore airport. The team was taken under high-security escort to a city hotel to wait until its early morning flight to London.
England originally had been scheduled to return Dec. 16 to Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace hotel, one of two luxury hotels targeted in the attacks.
"If it’s not safe then we won’t be coming back," skipper Kevin Pietersen told Sky Sports in Britain. "People are their own people. I’ll never force anyone to do anything or tell them to do anything against their will."
England and Wales Cricket Board managing director Hugh Morris said: "It’s always a huge challenge to play cricket over here in India. I would be confident the players will come over here full of enthusiasm and wanting to do well."
Hundreds of people have died in Pakistan this year because of suicide bombings, forcing the ICC to postpone the biennial Champions Trophy — the second-most prestigious limited-overs tournament after the World Cup — from September to an undetermined date.
"You want cricket to be played in all parts of the world and that has been the problem with Pakistan, you haven’t been able to tour there because of the volatile country," New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said.
Vettori fears that test cricket could be restricted to a few countries if security doesn’t improve.
"You never really want to go down that road, so you leave it to the people who make those decisions," he said. "We’ve trusted them in the past and we’ll trust them in the future."
The terrorist attack also caused the postponement in India of the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League tournament featuring the world’s top five provincial teams.
Australia’s Matthew Hayden, who plays for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League and was to compete in the Champions League, said cancellation of the tournament would be a "huge loss" for international cricket.
"But the impact is minor compared with the social and economic impacts that it will have on India," Hayden said.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting favors relocating the tournament now that Cricket Australia has stopped all travel to India.
"It’s a horrible thing to have happened," Ponting said. "Everyone who’s playing in the event or wants to see the event do well would like to see it go ahead, so if that means moving it to a different country then I guess I’d support that."
Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam wants the cricket boards to get together to restore confidence, but acknowledges little can be done.
"It’s a matter beyond the control of respective cricket boards after what happened in Mumbai," he said.