Islamabad: The bombing and machine gun attacks in Mumbai demonstrates how terrorism has affected Asian nations hosting sporting tours and places the global future of cricket in jeopardy.
Pakistan, hit by a spate of bombings, will finish 2008 without playing a single cricket test. Sri Lanka’s civil war involving the Tamil Tigers has been going for more than 25 years and shows no sign of abating.
Now, more than 119 people in Mumbai are dead in India’s worst terror attack, causing the England cricket team’s tour to be suspended and threatening a sport in a region containing four of the nine test-playing nations.
“If the message (of terrorists) is accepted then the pressure will build up,” said Zakir Hussain Syed, a cricket columnist said of the latest terror attacks on Wednesday night. “For the masses, cricket is a recreational oxygen in the subcontinent. Not only is the sport keenly followed on television, people go in large numbers to see their stars in action live on the grounds.”
The other five countries with the International Cricket Council’s elite test status Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies have recently demonstrated their reluctance to visit the subcontinent, and the future of the sport could be bleak if that continues.
Hundreds of people have died in Pakistan this year due to 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 a date still to be decided.
Vettori fears that test cricket could be restricted to being played in only a few countries if the security situation doesn’t improve. “If other countries start going down that road then there will only be three or four countries you can play,” he said. “You never really want to go down that road, so you leave it to the people who make those decisions. We’ve trusted them in the past and we’ll trust them in the future.”
The concerns have even forced the Pakistan Cricket Board to consider staging a series against India at a neutral venue in January. Syed feels subcontinental nations should focus on ensuring they play each other at home, and forget about convincing non-Asian countries that the region is safe.
“The only way I see the game progressing in the subcontinent is that at least the bilateral series between the subcontinent teams be played in the respective countries,” said Syed, who has also worked as a development manager for the Asian Cricket Council. “India could send positive vibes by touring Pakistan in January.”
The terrorist attack has also caused the postponement in India of the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League tournament that involves the top five provincial teams in the world.
Australia opening batsman Matthew Hayden, who plays for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League and was due to compete in the Champions League, said if the tournament was canceled that it 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 backed the event to be held elsewhere after Cricket Australia’s decision to stop 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.”
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland expected Mumbai’s terrorism attack to cause a similar tightening in security to that which followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“Cricket will go on. It doesn’t mean that we will cut any corners in making decisions,” Sutherland said Friday. “Everything is going to be more rigorous. That’s what we saw in the world following 9-11 and that’s what is going to come as a consequence of this.
Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam wants the cricket boards to get together to restore confidence, but acknowledges there is little it can do in the short term. Former Sri Lanka captain Hashan Tillakaratne has a similarly forlorn outlook on the sport’s future.