August 25, 2008

A devastating decision

The decision to effectively cancel the Champions Trophy completely alienates Pakistan - as a cricket team and as a nation

Brian Murgatroyd, a part of ICC's six-member delegation in Pakistan, being frisked in Lahore. Pakistan did all they could to ensure players' safety © AFP

Unless you live in Pakistan, or have been here through the madness of the last year or so, it will be impossible to understand the despondency the decision to postpone the Champions Trophy is likely to cause.

For one, it is actually a cancellation. Next year has enough action to fill a John Woo trilogy. Fitting a tournament into it is harder than getting Oprah Winfrey into one of Kate Moss' dresses. And the only thing more useless than the Champions Trophy in some eyes is two Champions Trophies in two years: one is scheduled to be held in 2010.

But this decision also essentially sets in stone a future policy for all non-Asian nations now: there is no need to tour Pakistan. The war on terror Pakistan is leading will not end overnight, because such nebulous wars don't. At best, within this country, it will have to be managed so that interference with life's everyday grind is minimal. Expect stories that Pakistan's place as co-hosts of the 2011 World Cup is under threat to be churned out from next year.

For countries like Australia it makes no difference, for they seem to have put their policy in place some ten years ago. They haven't toured even once in that time and have never shown a particular willingness to do so. Leaders they may be on the field, but on this matter they have been consistently disgraceful.

South Africa have toured here, but pulled out of the Champions Trophy first, which at best is inconsistent and at worst hypocritical. They came last October when the situation was as, if not more, unstable than it is now. They even stayed after the first attempt on Benazir Bhutto's life, and weeks before they arrived, the siege of Lal Masjid had just ended. Days after they left, a state of emergency was announced, indicating just how turbulent things were.

Incidentally it was players from these countries who didn't mind the bombs in Jaipur during the IPL. The context may be different, sure, but how much does that really matter? A bomb after all is a bomb, in India or Pakistan, whether suicide or planted, one of a series or solitary, and equally likely to cause damage. Perhaps next time Pakistan should dangle a bagful of dollars in front of players rather than inviting tedious security assessments.

Barring that what more could Pakistan have done? Nothing. The security arrangements, by many accounts, were outstanding. FICA's chief is supposed to have told the PCB that they were the best arrangements he had seen. The Asia Cup was held recently without so much as a beep on the many metal detectors and scanners placed at stadiums. No, the question is not what Pakistan could have done, for they did everything.

The question really is what the unwilling countries could have done. Open their minds is the only answer, because from the account of at least one individual involved in the task-force meetings, players had already closed their minds and were willing to hear only what they wanted. Does it need repeating that cricket has never been targeted here? Or even that security anywhere in the world can never be guaranteed? Eventually the concerns weren't so much over the security arrangements but over whether they could be sustained. How on earth is any organisation supposed to prove that sustainability without the tournament actually going ahead?

Pakistan needed to show itself - and see itself - in headlines that didn't have the words 'terrorist' and 'Al-Qaeda' in them. They went out of their way to try and ensure it, yet were still rebuffed. At a time when Pakistan needed most to feel involved and wanted in the world of cricket and the world itself, Pakistan finds itself shut out

Things must be put into perspective, people will say, and that it isn't worth putting lives at risk. It should be countered not only that risk is everywhere, but that things must now be seen from Pakistan's perspective.

Pakistan has had a miserable year and a half. It feels as if another downward spiral has been embarked upon. Battles are raging in remote parts of the country, there is political uncertainty, the economy is in the pits, and much, much else that requires another forum. But increasingly the feeling is that instead of being further engaged in the debate that is shaping the world, the country is being marginalised.

That feeling is now seeping into the cricket. Already this will be the first calendar year in many that Pakistan doesn't play a single Test. Once, in the 1970s and 1980s, they were a leading voice in the game's administration. At times they are now but a hollow echo of the BCCI. There is also a mediocre and now untested team on the field.

So Pakistan needed to host the Champions Trophy, the second-most important ODI tournament in the game, to put some feelgood back in the air, an opportunity to show that it still matters. Pakistan needed to show itself - and see itself - in headlines that didn't have the words "terrorist" and "Al-Qaeda" in them. They went out of their way to try and ensure it, yet were still rebuffed. At a time when Pakistan needed most to feel involved and wanted in the world of cricket and the world itself, Pakistan finds itself shut out.

Pakistanis are fond of asking what actually unites and defines them. Some say there are many things, some say there are barely any, but cricket is a given, in both cases, a bond of some kind. It has always pulled people here together, however briefly, in joy, in grief, in celebration, in outrage. It has been played with verve for much of the country's history, and talked, argued, shouted and screamed about with greater passion. It is one constant in a land of very few.

For that to be taken away, at this time, when it was probably most needed, the disappointment, the anger, the frustration and the ensuing depression of that will not be understood by people outside Pakistan. It is time that it was.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • A H on September 1, 2008, 11:57 GMT

    What a load of rubbish from the non-Asian countries. They just good at hiding or ignoring the problems in their own countries and point out the worst in others. Need I remind everyone of the racist nature of a lot of the non-Asian test playing nations e.g. the racist rampage in Austrailia a few years ago, a South African player's comments few years ago, even the non-Asians are racist towards each other, but cricket carries on still. And no, it's not just banter or light humour - it's discrimination, and no it's not a less serious problem as is the one in Pakistan at the moment. Why block out Pakistan? I go on holiday there all the time to see family, and the media just blow up a stupid image which Pakistan is not. You want to judge any entity on 20 minutes of footage chosen to be shown out of 1440 minutes. Non-Asian countries need to sort out their facts out before judging.

  • Powderdubdub on August 29, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    Its true that pakistan could not do much to help its cause, in the way of stopping terrorism, yet its also true that the foreign teams especially from the west were always reluctant to visit Pakistan, long before terrorism started. They only visited Pakistan out of a sense of duty, they admitted that they never enjoyed staying in Pakistan, they called it a "Dump". Most of it has to do with the cultural constraints, I dont think there is an easy answer. Terrorism has provided the foreign teams especially from the west a very convenient excuse, dont go far, Australia are going ahead with India tour despite dozens of bombings in Banglore, they will play the first test in BANGLORE!!

  • Rav on August 28, 2008, 20:48 GMT

    Pakistan's security is in dire starits - Daily violence, bombings, lynching etc.m India's violence in comparison is negligible - also, lots of the violence in India is either caused by Pakistan or related to Pakistan

    India has a terrific record treating foreigners with dignity and safety - India is above alla secular nation and everyone feels safe - the Indian culture is one of modesty and and its religions are very moderate and balanced

    so, let us be clear - Playing in Pakistan is not safe

  • Faisal on August 28, 2008, 18:38 GMT

    One thing I fail to see in these comments - from the perspective of players who tour Pakistan - they are either on the field, or pent up in their hotel rooms. They have no night life to avail, no bars to drink in, no places to gamble or "have fun". They look for an excuse not to tour Pakistan. Terrorism is merely a cover for their more socially unacceptable response, which is Pakistan offers nothing to non-muslim visitors or those that have an open mind. 10 years from now, even if the bombs stop exploding, countries will find other reasons not to tour.

  • aNWAR on August 28, 2008, 15:41 GMT

    It is all about Asian and non-Asian block. There is power struggle is going on. Non-Asian cricket playing countries are seeing that power is shifting to Asian block. CT is give them opportunity to bash PCB and save some self-pride. BCCI and PCB should stand shoulder to shoulder and once again take what is rightfully theirs. Long live the CRICKET

  • Shinoj on August 28, 2008, 13:29 GMT

    Why dont the Pakistani's think from the touring sides perspective. With the kind of unrest in you country even if a cricketer agrees to tour Pakistan just try to imagine what his relatives would go through till the time he is there. And suppose some incident occurs affecting any cricketer your reputation will further come down. Cricket shouldnt be a priority right now there.

  • prasad on August 28, 2008, 12:59 GMT

    I completely disagree with the concept "Bombs have gone up in London and Mumbai and you still played. Then why dont you play in Pakistan". First of all the situations are not comparable. Agreed that a bomb is a bomb everywhere but bombs exploding on a weekly basis is entirely different from bombs going off rarely. You cant ask a player from Australia , who probably doesnt even know what it is to have an explosion in his city to come to a place of which he is very afraid. May be money is playing a role , but it has to be understood that with its very loose political structure and poor security , there is little wonder that cricketers are afraid of touring Pakistan and actually who doesnt want to earn money, money is the main motive for PCB doing everything in it's hands to host the tournament. Pakistan should look at solving issues internal to it so that the country automatically becomes a place where ppl want to come, rather than accusing cricketers , who are normal people like anyone.

  • Abhijeet on August 28, 2008, 10:54 GMT

    Osman Samiuddin's article is touching. It can very well be seen as a revenge by Western Block against an Asian Block. The shockinglg thing is if Indian cricket team can travel to Pakistan even after such bitter history , why can't any other country then. Australian are known for their prima donna behaviour. In the past many ausi greats l;ike Chappells, Lilliee , Thommo never played in India. The reason it was lucrative enough. The only reason they are playing in IPL and have ongoing series with India on a yearly basis is because of money. If Pakistan was earning such money then won't be any such issue. Security reason etc are just a flmsy excuse. The soft belly of PCB is only making the matter worse. Pakistani officials are pulling PCB in opposite direction. No wonder then decisions get changed in a jiffy. Shoaib Akhtar alway seems to get basnned but returns back to the team after few months. Asif case is the similar , he's a known drug abuser who return on some technicality.

  • Rajkumar on August 28, 2008, 7:53 GMT

    Excellent article clearly expressing how Pakistanis must be feeling. While concerns of security among players is understandable, I can't help feeling that ICC simply pushed the tournament to postpone a conflict between asian and non-asian countries. If security was such a concern, ICC should have simply "cancelled" the tournament and not postpone it. The problem is that ICC is worried about the bullying power of BCCI and the impending protest by non-asian countries.

    Beyond the current Champions trophy crisis, I feel that BCCI must ensure it uses its powers wisely, otherwise it will lose its credibility and lead to a split down the middle of the cricketing world. I'm a person that would love great relations between India and Pakistan in every arena, but in a sense, the possibility that BCCI may side up with PCB may be disadvantageous for the PCB in a situation like the Champions Trophy. BCCI must use its powers wisely and in a credible manner.

  • Kashif on August 28, 2008, 3:10 GMT

    Many of your correspondents have understandably argued about the security concerns of the players. Fair enough, if they have concerns but be bold and loud about your security concerns now, rather than cancel the tour at the eleventh hour. If you do not want to play in Pakistan for the rescheduled CT in 2009 make your voice loud and clear right now. Cricket Australia and the some of the senior cricketers are continuously snubbing Pakistan for the last 10 years. This policy of arrogantly cancelling the Pakistan tour every time at the eleventh hour is pathetic and shows complete disregard to Pakistan. Australia hasn't toured Pakistan for the last 10 years and it won't be an epic tragedy if Australia doesn't undertake a Pakistan tour for the next few years. It will also save the elite Aussie cricketers from high stress levels. Better be open with the Pakistan board and stop this foul game of dropping out at the very last minute. PCB should also cancel the future Australian tours.

  • No featured comments at the moment.