The day of tragedy that changes cricket forever

Attack on Sri Lankan team means international game will not be played in Pakistan for years to come / Indian Premier League under threat of cancellation after government fails to guarantee players' safety
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The Independent Online

Cricket changed forever yesterday. The attack on Sri Lanka's team in the centre of Lahore went far beyond Pakistan in particular and the Asian Subcontinent in general. Its thunderous effects could be felt everywhere the sport is played.

The game cannot and will not be played in Pakistan for the foreseeable future, a period that could last five years or 15 years. But in the shorter term there are also serious doubts about playing the game in India and nothing said by officials with cash registers in their eyes could alter that.

The Indian Premier League, due to start next month with the world's best cricketers taking part, is under threat, partly because players may be unwilling to travel, partly because the Indian government went some way yesterday to conceding that it could not guarantee security. England's enlisted players were considering last night what to do. Those in the West Indies were still stunned by what had taken place.

Beyond that, the fate of the 2011 World Cup being planned in four countries of the Subcontinent – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – is at best uncertain. Although officials from the International Cricket Council hedged their bets, Pakistan will clearly not be a venue. But the feeling will persist, with memories still fresh of the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai last November, that safety cannot be guaranteed anywhere.

The World Twenty20 is scheduled to take place in England this summer and the security restrictions that will be necessary with 12 teams taking part will make it a logistical nightmare. The murderers of Lahore ensured that no game anywhere will be easy to arrange or comfortably attended.

In the Caribbean, England's cricketers about to leave Barbados for Trinidad, attempted to grasp the enormity of what had taken place. A few yards from the hotel they were about to leave in Bridgetown, gentle waters lapped a sun-kissed beach. It was a scene from paradise while they were hearing about a hell on earth.

Stuart Broad, the team's richly promising fast bowler, was simply relieved to hear that his father Chris was safe. As the match referee in the Test series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Broad Snr had been travelling in a car behind the Sri Lankan team coach. His driver was killed but he was, it was reported, taken to safety unharmed with other officials by a nearby policeman as bullets rained around.

There remained a will to play cricket. As David Morgan, the Welsh president of the ICC, said: "The world is a dangerous place but cricket must go on, it will go on. It is a great game which is a solace to many people." But never again can the safety of cricketers anywhere cricket is played be taken for granted

If the audacious ambush, as the players made their way to the Gaddafi Stadium for a Test match, sought attention it succeeded brilliantly. This has been a catastrophe waiting to happen. During a decade, perhaps more, of terrorist interventions in countries where cricket is played the official line has remained chillingly standard: that players have never been targets and never would be the targets.

But there was always the uncomfortable feeling that this would alter, that sooner or later somebody with weapons and a cause would realise what cricketers could do for it. The comparisons with the attack on the Israeli team by extremists at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 were made immediately. But then one particular team was deliberately targeted, in Lahore it was Sri Lanka but it could in truth have been any team. In the event no players or officials were killed yesterday but six policemen and two civilians lost their lives.

Two of the Sri Lanka team were more badly injured than the others, the batsmen Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana who were later released from hospital. The juxtaposition of sport and life was brought home by the involvement of Samaraweera. He had scored double centuries in both the first Test match, in Karachi, and the second in Lahore, the fourth day of which was due to take place yesterday. That glittering achievement was put into perspective by the horror of the journey to the stadium. "We were all tucked under the seats," Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said when the team arrived back in Colombo early this morning. "Our guys were getting hurt and screaming but we couldn't help each other. None of us thought that we would come alive out of the situation."

There were narrow escapes by men who came for a game and saw bloodshed. Chris Broad was in a car behind the Sri Lankan team bus. His driver was shot dead as the bus carrying the players sped away while under fire.

Morgan and the ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat will come under immense pressure to announce that Pakistan will not be part of the World Cup plans. It was conceded at the press conference they gave in London yesterday that their security advice on Pakistan had changed. The fact was that the country was deemed by experts to be safer under the military government of Pervez Musharraf which had been in power for a decade until last year when it was replaced by a civilian administration.

There is bound to be a struggle within the ICC. There were already signs yesterday that Pakistan will not want to become a pariah but they will soon have to recognise that no other country will play there. Morgan tried to dowse some of the flames by mentioning the terrorist attacks on London in 2005 which happened on the day England were playing Australia in a one-day international in Leeds.

But he and Lorgat had no option but to concede that the landscape has now changed irrevocably. As they spoke their shock at the turn of events was obvious. They had been dragged from the comfort zone they had occupied previously – a place established on the fact that hitherto there had been no direct attacks on cricketers.

The shock at what had happened was no better summed up than by Graeme Smith, the captain of South Africa, whose team had been beaten by Australia in the first Test match of the series between the countries the previous day. "The word 'tragedy' is often used to describe a setback on a sporting field but this is a real tragedy," he said. "It is a tragedy for all the people of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it is a tragedy for cricket and it is a tragedy for all decent people.

"There is a tremendous brotherhood between players around the world and at this moment the South African team extends its sympathy to all those who have been affected by this terrible event. We are hurting after our defeat yesterday but this puts into perspective what real suffering is. Our thoughts are with the players."

The West Indies Cricket Board president, Julian Hunte, also articulated the global outrage. "All Test-playing nations must ensure that security is priority number one, in our area of the world as well," he said. "Before, it was felt that cricketers were not being targeted regardless of what was going on in Pakistan. There was a level of comfort. This now blows that away and it means cricketers are being seen as targets."

It was always likely that the IPL would be an unwelcome spectre. So it proved. Hardly had the Sri Lankan team been airlifted from the stadium than the IPL's commissioner, Lalit Modi said his competition would still be taking place. "The IPL will go ahead as planned and I don't visualise any impact on it," Modi said on NDTV. "There are a few dates which will change due to the general elections. But we will get under way on 10 April."

If this almost beggared belief considering what had happened, the Indian government saw matters differently. While Modi stipulated that several security measures had already been put in place following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which caused England briefly to abandon their Indian tour late last year, and that they had envisaged every conceivable mode of attack, the government's home minister called for the IPL to be abandoned.

Any difficulties have been compounded by the calling of elections in India with polling coinciding with the IPL. The country's home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said: "I have requested the home secretary to get in touch with the IPL and discuss rescheduling the dates. It will be difficult to provide adequate paramilitary forces for election purposes and for the IPL. I don't want my forces to be strained."

In those circumstances it is impossible to imagine that even a competition as lucrative as the IPL could proceed as planned. But with the IPL anything is possible.

The ICC will be under the closest scrutiny now. With Lorgat at the helm they will endeavour to act as a proper governing body. That could be seen by his urging Pakistan to seek neutral venues to play matches, with England well to the fore as the venue. But as the dust settles slightly with the murderers still at large, Lorgat will see that it is not simply about Pakistan. It is about cricket everywhere.

The ambushed: Casualty list


Six policemen and a driver


Umpire Ahsan Raza

Bullet in abdomen which has damaged internal organs


Thilan Samaraweera

Bullet wound in thigh

Tharanga Paranavitana

Grazed in chest by bullet


Mahela Jayawardene (captain)

Kumar Sangakkara

Ajantha Mendis

Suranka Lakmal

Chaminda Vaas

Paul Farbrace (assistant coach)

Terror and sport: Outrages and threats

*Munich olympics 1972

On 5 September 1972, eight "Black September" Arab terrorists, disguised as athletes, climb into the Olympic village and break into the Israeli athletes' rooms. They kill wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Joseph Romano then shoot dead nine more Israelis during the botched rescue operation. The IOC suspend the Games but they ultimately continue with the blessing of the Israeli government.

*Cricket world cup 1996

Two weeks before the start of the Cricket World Cup, a suicide bomber blows up Colombo's Central Bank killing 91 people and injuring over 1,400. Australia and the West Indies refuse to play in Sri Lanka and the ICC award both matches to Sri Lanka. Pakistan's support during the crisis is cited as a reason for Sri Lanka accepting the invitation to tour this year.

*Atlanta Olympics 1996

The detonation of a 40lb pipe-bomb at the Centennial Olympic Park following a concert on 27 July mars the 1996 Games. The blast kills one and injures 111 others. A Turkish cameraman suffers heart failure in the immediate aftermath of the blast. The culprit, Eric Robert Rudolph, accepts five consecutive life sentences after a plea bargain.

*Aintree 1997

Two coded IRA bomb threats lead to the evacuation (right) of 60,000 people less than an hour before the Grand National begins. Forty-nine hours later, a third of those turn up to the rescheduled event to watch Tony Dobbin ride Lord Gyllene to victory.

*Kempton Park 1998

The Christmas meeting is abandoned after a bomb warning forces officials to clear 20,000 spectators from the Surrey course. The evacuation follows a warning to the BBC Belfast newsroom by a man claiming to represent the Continuity IRA.

*Ryder Cup 2001

The 9/11 terrorist attacks cause the Ryder Cup to be rearranged after the American team make clear their reservations about flying to England to compete at The Belfry.

*Colombo marathon 2008

A suicide bomber kills 12 people seconds before the start of the race, including Olympic athlete, KA Karunaratne.

Fallout: Cricket in jeopardy

*The terrorist attack in Lahore meant the second Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was abandoned but many other cricketing events are in danger of being cancelled:

*This month: Bangladesh v Pakistan, Twenty20 & one-day series in Dhaka. Due to start on Tuesday but could fall prey to heightened security concerns.

*Next month: Pakistan v Australia, one-day series in United Arab Emirates. Announced only last week after the Australians, who have not toured Pakistan since 1998, refused to play there again last year. The Cricket Australia chief executive, James Sutherland, said yesterday he hoped the games would still go ahead.

*April-May: Indian Premier League. Came under immediate threat yesterday when an Indian government minister said he thought it should be rescheduled as the IPL clashed with elections, traditionally a time of heightened tensions in India. "We are working around the dates of the elections," the IPL tournament director, Dhiraj Malhotra, said.

*December: New Zealand tour of Pakistan. The two cricket boards were already in talks about switching the tour to Abu Dhabi before yesterday's events.

*February-March: 2010 England tour of Pakistan. England were pencilled in for their first tour in five years to rebuild ties damaged by Pakistan's visit in 2006. A serious doubt now.

*February-March: 2011 Cricket World Cup. Pakistan are set to be one of the four co-hosts, along with Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, while one of the semi-finals is scheduled to take place in Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium.