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Cricket, politics and terrorism: Can Pakistani cricket emerge out of the shadows?

The boys in the news not the ones who wear the white clothes and struggle to produce results on the placid Pakistan tracks. The people I am talking about are those who exhibited a cavalier attitude in broad daylight by carrying a automatic rifle with a sole aim of disrupting peace. At Lahore, on a fateful Tuesday on the 3rd of March, 2009, the bad boys made it large. The rocket launchers, AK 47s and grenades put the image of Pakistan in shambles. Two civilians and six security men were killed and the Sri Lankan cricket team was in danger.

LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 03:  Members of the Sri Lankan international cricket team board a rescue helicopter at the Gadaffi Stadium on March 3, 2009 in Lahore, Pakistan. The team were attacked in a coach as it travelled through the heart of Lahore, leaving five Pakistani policeman dead and several team members injured.

LAHORE, PAKISTAN – MARCH 03: Members of the Sri Lankan international cricket team board a rescue helicopter at the Gadaffi Stadium on March 3, 2009 in Lahore, Pakistan. The team were attacked in a coach as it travelled through the heart of Lahore, leaving five Pakistani policeman dead and several team members injured.

Often a sports person has to endure lot of difficulties in the field – the perspiration, drudgery and the mental toughness to do the job relentlessly for years. Batsmen like Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paravitarana would have expected a barrage of bouncers from the Pakistan fast bowlers but they must have least expected the bombardment of bullets in their direction. Ajantha Mendis, who confounded the batsmen with his mystery deliveries, was trying to save his life. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene received minor scars, but the whole world had major wounds in their minds. Do the sportspersons deserve this? We may have biases about each one of them as players, we may even hate them for beating our team; but after such an incident, the entire world was sympathetic towards them. No one wants to see violence in cricket apart from the bat and the ball.

What about the anger that permeated in the minds of cricket aficionados?

Believe me, there was a lot of anger for Pakistan after these attacks. Seven years ago, the New Zealand team escaped a near death experience when there was a blast outside their hotel at Karachi. A few of the Kiwis were in tears since they saw a man walking on one limb and the harrowing noises of the screaming people. Did Pakistan learn anything after that ill-fated day?

Few cricket boards had condemned Sri Lanka before the start of the tour for going to Pakistan in first place. The instability of the nation had infiltrated in the sacrosanct game of cricket. The Pakistan Cricket Board(PCB) said that the attack was beyond their control. There was a political hara-kiri as well. It is hard to believe that the tour was sanctioned after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. One wonders what was going through the minds of the Sri Lankan foreign minister and President Mahinda Rajapakse when they gave a green signal to the national team to go ahead with the tour when Pakistan’s image in South Asia was in choppy waters.

Perhaps there was a belief that cricket will act as a soothing balm and improve the state of the nation. Sri Lanka’s political situation was hanging by the thread once upon a time when the LTTE had caused a lot of ruckus in the smooth functioning of the nation. But to their credit, the LTTE had never targeted a match venue. So on the basis of that, did Rajapakse think that no terrorist in the world would attack the cricketers and venue for the love of the game? Up till that point, the major threat to the game of cricket was caused by an Indian political party when they dug up the Brabourne Stadium and Ferozshah Kotla mainly to prevent the Pakistan team from playing there. But so far, no one had the gumption to kill the players. Rajapakse had naively failed to consider this possibility.

Today, Pakistan’s cricket authorities agree that there are many factors well beyond their control outside the contours of the game. The unstable governance makes it very difficult for the administrators of the game to promote cricket. The game’s history has been a romantic one for the Pakistanis. The contributions of Fazal Mahmood, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim and Waqar have been indelibly linked in the hearts of the people. It is a big heartbreak for them to hear that cricket being used as a platform to disseminate evil in the society. The need of the hour is to address such an issue and surmount the factors that prevent the Pakistan people from seeing a Tendulkar straight drive, Sangakkara cover drive or Dale Steyn’s bowling on a regular basis.

And it should not be PCB’s headache alone to restore the lost pride of the game. It is every board’s responsibility to support PCB for the betterment of the game. Forsaking Pakistan has been the easy way out so far, but the bigger question remains- how long can we ostracise Pakistan?

Is it really conceivable to segregate politics from cricket, ever?

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