Lahore assault casts long shadow
Attack on Sri Lankans in Pakistan has serious repercussions for international cricket.
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2009 13:49 GMT

The Sri Lanka team were evacuated by helicopter after the attack [AFP]

Six Sri Lankan Test cricketers wounded by gun-wielding attackers, the bodies of five Pakistani policemen who died trying to save them – and an English match referee with his uniform covered in blood.

On top of the personal tragedy of those targeted by armed killers on a routine bus trip to an international match, the images paint a picture of this most genteel of sports thrown into chaos by the violence of the modern world.

On Monday night, Sri Lanka were being clapped off the field after scoring 606 runs in their first innings at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.

By Tuesday they were staring down the barrels of machine guns as 12 attackers opened fire on the bus carrying them to the stadium.

Sri Lanka are the only Test nation to dare to tour Pakistan amid acute security concerns in the country, and have been severely punished for putting the sport above their own safety.

In December the England cricket team were applauded for resuming their tour of India following the Mumbai attacks.

But Tuesday's assault on the Sri Lanka party raises deep concerns about whether touring sides will now travel to the region.

Uncertain future

It seems certain at least that Pakistan – a nation with a proud cricketing history and obsessive fans – will struggle to recover as a serious international force.

Former England cricketer Dominic Cork was a strong voice against England's return to India last year, but travelled to Pakistan as a commentator for the Sri Lanka series.

Speaking to Sky News from Lahore, he said he would not be returning - and doubted whether any cricketers would be either.

"I was badly advised to come out and commentate and will certainly be looking at the decision (in future) no matter what the country is," Cork said.

"Sport is second – it has to be second – until this region is sorted out.

"You have Chris Broad, the match referee, standing with blood all over his ICC (International Cricket Council) shirt.

"That for me sums it up. A match referee with blood on his hands. It shouldn't happen."

Different view

But as captain Mahela Jayawardene led his team onto a helicopter out of Lahore, his manager Charlie Austin, 38, told Al Jazeera that the Sri Lankans took a slightly different view.

Pakistan captain Younis Khan walks past the bullet-ridden Sri Lanka coach [AFP]
"There's certainly no blank on Sri Lanka touring Pakistan again," said Austin, who also manages Kumar Sangakkara and four other players.

"The ground situation will need to change significantly and it will just take a bit of time for the players to feel comfortable.

"Terrorism is one of those things we have to live with, as a sportsman or anyone living in the modern world."

While he pointed out that Sri Lanka are used to bombings in their own country, it is less certain that teams such as England and Australia will take a relaxed view when it comes to travelling to the subcontinent.

Whatever the security advice for India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, the Mumbai attacks sparked genuine fear among England cricketers.

And having now seen their sporting colleagues come under direct attack, advice to travel is likely to hold less weight for Test nations than it did when England returned for the Chennai match in December.

The attack in Lahore leaves Pakistan cricket in serious trouble.

A nation that has boasted stars like Wasim Akram, Inzamam ul-Haq and Imran Khan has seen a serious drain on its resources after Australia and India refused to tour the country.

Lifeline disappears

Having been thrown a lifeline by Sri Lanka, the Pakistan Cricket Board has seen realistic prospects of future tours disappear in a cloud of gunsmoke.

Captain Younis Khan and his team are set to keep their eye in with a tour of Bangladesh next week and a 'home' series against Australia in the United Arab Emirates in April and May.

But no matches on home soil means little revenue to nurture the game and produce future Pakistani stars from a hugely talented pool of aspiring players.

Speaking to ESPN, ex-captain Akram said the chance of Pakistan hosting the 2011 World Cup was now a "distant dream".

"How do you expect a foreign team to come to Pakistan now?" said the former fast bowler.

"We took pride in hosting our guests. This image has taken a beating. It's sad for Pakistan."

It is not just the Pakistanis who miss out.

Missing Pakistan

Test captains like South Africa's Graeme Smith have spoken of the lack of competition posed by smaller nations like Bangladesh, and the loss of "Pakistan away" as a feasible fixture will be felt by all top cricketers keen to test themselves against the best.

Cricket under fire

 May 2002: Bomb kills 10 outside New Zealand hotel in Karachi
 Mar 2008: Australia put off tour after two years of bomb blasts
 Aug 2008: Champions Trophy postponed for a year after five teams pull out
 Oct 2008: West Indies call off tour
 Dec 2008: India call off tour after Mumbai attacks
 Feb 2009: Champions Trophy cancelled
 Mar 2009: Sri Lanka attacked on way to Test in Lahore

As for Sri Lanka, they are not due to play again until the ICC World Twenty20 starts in England in June.

But Austin said he reckoned the injured players – Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilan Samaraweera, Thilan Thushara and Ajantha Mendis – would be back playing "in a couple of weeks".

"Sri Lankans are very resilient," he said.

"It's a remarkable escape when you consider a rocket launcher went very close to the bus.

"But I wouldn't be surprised if they were back playing domestic cricket in a couple of weeks."

In an interview with Al Jazeera's Sportsworld, Sri Lanka foreign secretary Palitha Kohana said the attack had struck at the root of a sport that "unites continents".

"Those that decided to attack a cricket team obviously had larger designs – to target something that binds us closer on the sub-continent," he said.

"This is a shameful deed."

Al Jazeera
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