Over the last few years, as extremism and terrorism have taken a stronger foothold in the sub-continent, we have seen a sharp increase in the terror attacks and ,if I may so, the audacity of the attacks. The most recent and ,probably, one of the most audacious one that comes to mind is the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Some of these have taken place during or before a sport tournament but never have specially targeted an event or ,god forbid, a sports team. But now this has all changed. Sportsperson have always been regarded and considered as ambassadors for their countries and any attack on them makes you sit up and take a closer look, if you weren’t already paying attention.
The Sri Lankan Team had gone on goodwill tour to Pakistan, who have been devoid of top-class international cricket for over a year now, after the India Team cancelled their scheduled tour. Even though I am ardent fan of Indian cricket team often flirting with the realms of nationalism when Sachin or Dravid are batting, I will be the first to admit that probably Sri Lankans are the only gentlemen remaining in this “gentleman” game. While match referee Chris Broad and Pakistan cricket chief traded sound bytes over the security structure, the response of the Sri Lankan team and even the authorities has been nothing short of exemplary. While the rest of the world had already started the process of isolation of Pakistan from the cricketing world, Sri Lankans stood by their host. They appreciated the reality of terrorism and related it to their experience back home, another war-torn country for decades. That’s it. In fact, Kumara Sangakara even obliged to write an article for cricinfo.com while waiting for his flight back home.
But wherever your loyalties might lie, one couldn’t escape the fact that these attacks went wrong on multiple levels. To start with, Pakistan government and cricket board had guaranteed the Sri Lankans presidential security during this tour . In the aftermath of the attack and on the video records, the security didn’t look very “presidential”. And to make it worse, Pakistan cricket chief’s public statement of almost equating these attacks to “someone cribbing over some scratches” sounded blasphemous! To me that interview explained the root of all evils in Pakistan - the absolute state of denial of the situation at hand by authorities at all levels. Pakistan is in a state of emergency. The Taliban and terrorism has made unprecedented in-roads into the country over the last few years and if remain unchecked it has the potential to take the whole country down with it. As the Pakistan captain, Younis Khan, warned the world that if in Pakistan cricket dies, it will provide further fire to terrorism and young, misguided teenagers as easy baits.
As the attacks happened, cricketers all over the world took notice. There were silence observed in all the cricket matches that followed that week as mark of support and respect to the Sri Lankan Team. But in spite of these well-intentioned gestures, there had already started a scary undercurrent. Indian Captain, MS Dhoni, was interviewed after the India-NZ match in Napier and he said that he was glad to be in NZ and players would now think more carefully about these things. Dhoni has always been his own man and doesn’t mince many words. But this is a scary thought. If Dhoni doesn’t want to take his team to Pakistan, what chances do we give for an Australian, England or NZ team to visit Pakistan in the foreseeable future ? This thought scares me and every true cricket fan around the world. Cricket is enduring the toughest period of a colorful, contentious history. Of course all cricketers experience bad patches when form deserts them. But it's been a long time since the advance of the game itself was in such serious doubt.
It’s just not cricket!