ICL: Indian Cricket League

Australian team’s tour of Pakistan should be called off


Geoff Lawson, the former Test cricketer who now coaches the national Pakistan team, is the latest voice from there to insist that the Australian team will be in no danger if they tour there this year as scheduled.

Unsurprisingly, the same message is emanating from Pakistan’s cricket community in general.

They are desperate for the world’s best team to visit, fearing the game will be damaged if it does not.

Test captain Shoaib Malik and former skipper Imran Khan, now a politician, have both urged the Australians to fulfil the commitment, which involves three Tests, five one-day matches and a twenty20 match in March.

Cricket Australia will make a decision when it has investigated the situation and taken advice from the Government.

As usual, the argument is that sporting teams are never the targets of terrorists. True - not since the Munich Olympics outrage 36 years ago have athletes been in the gunsights.

No cricket team has ever been attacked. And Lawson insists that despite the high level of civil unrest after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, life proceeds normally and safely. For him, anyway.

But does that mean that any Australian players who fear for their safety if they have to make this trip - and Andrew Symonds has already indicated that he does - are jumping at shadows? Definitely not.

Bhutto’s assassination was the 52nd suicide bombing in Pakistan last year, and you don’t have to be in anybody’s sights to be on the wrong end of that.

I know. I consider myself fortunate to have survived just such an atrocity in Colombo, Sri Lanka, early in 1996, when a carload of explosives was driven into a major bank in the central business district. About 100 people were killed and 1000 injured.

I was in a hotel room little more than a 10-minute walk away when the explosion happened, but I had walked past that bank twice a day for the previous four days.

I was waiting for the Australian team to arrive for a match against Sri Lanka. The Australian Cricket Board already had misgivings, as did several players.

Shane Warne said he feared he could be blown up while out shopping. For that, he was provocatively labelled “a sissy” by a government minister.

And yet the victims had been doing just that - shopping, or otherwise going about their business in a bustling, everyday environment.

I didn’t feel like a sissy as I toured the dreadful aftermath, with no guarantees that it was a one-off. It was impossible not to feel trepidation, especially coming across a group of teenage soldiers examining two bodies so badly charred they were recognisable as human only by the bones sticking out of the blackened flesh.

And, sadly, there was no sign of the child beggar who stood across the road every day and cadged a dollar from me - “for my school sport” - every time I passed. Just another innocent victim, I presume.

Not long after I reported all this, in print and in private conversations with the cricket board, Australia pulled out of the trip, much to the relief of the players but also to the undisguised anger of the World Cup hosts, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. Insults flew in high places, and the Australians were not forgiven quickly for what was seen as an act of cowardice. They ended up having to arrange their own accommodation through a News Limited executive working in Mumbai after being shunted off to an inferior hotel a long way from their practice ground.

Eventually, Australia lost the Cup final to, yes, Sri Lanka, in a match played in Pakistan. It was widely seen as a poetic result.

Despite the huge angst it caused, I thought the Colombo withdrawal was a responsible decision by Australia.

A dozen years later, I still do - and the Pakistan dilemma seems little different.

The other factor that resonates now is that terrorism seems to know no bounds since 9/11. That sports teams have not been targets does not necessarily mean they never will be.

For the lunatics so desperate to attract attention to themselves and their twisted causes, it might one day prove too tempting.

This was spelled out in the Herald Sun yesterday when experts warned that it would be virtually impossible to safeguard a cricket team.

They warned against relying on the goodwill of the Pakistani people because, overwhemingly, they are cricket fans who would be horrified by such an attack.

“If we use the precedents, (the cricketers) are in danger. There’s no doubt about that,” said Michael McKinley, senior strategy lecturer at the Australian national University.

“The people who’d attack an Australian cricket team don’t care too much for cricket. They regard it as something Western, which is undesirable.”

God forbid it ever happens, but if it does it won’t be much comfort to the victims to know that they were the first exception to the rule. The tour should be called off.

Source:Cricket News

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