March 11, 2008

An unfortunate, hard-biting reality

Ultimately, there is no clear wrong or right in this. Pakistan lose out in many ways but Australia's decision not to tour cannot be wholly and forcefully condemned

Australia should have sent a security team to assess the situation © Getty Images

The blasts in Lahore came too late to affect Cricket Australia's decision to postpone the tour - in all probability that decision had been made some time ago - but they go some way in helping to understand that decision, unpalatable though it may be.

Lahore has, until this year, been gregariously safe among cities in Pakistan. Hale, hearty and welcoming people are Lahoris, rightly proud of their city's reputation as the cultural hub of Pakistan, untouched by the violence that has afflicted other parts of the country. For cricket, it had become the main centre, often hosting the bulk of internationals for teams unwilling to travel to the North-West or Karachi.

But since the turn of the year, even Lahore, once safe, warm, hospitable Lahore, has been hit by four suicide attacks. 2007 was one of the most turbulent of Pakistan's 61 years, political uncertainty compounded by over 50 suicide attacks across the country. The rate has not lessened this year. Many people in Pakistan will tell you they do not feel as safe in their own country as they did 12 months ago. It may or may not be an irrational fear, but it is borne of irrational violence and is a fear nonetheless.

Simply put, nobody - not Pakistanis, not those outside - is sure quite what will happen in Pakistan now or in coming days and weeks. Australia's decision to not tour in 2002-03 was wrong, based as it was on fears of another country's war spilling over the border. But this time around the violence is closer to home and that much more intense and unpredictable. Privately, even PCB officials concede that they understand Australia's apprehensions.

But still many will argue, with some force, that the postponement - and it is, for all intents and purposes, a cancellation - is wrong and there is merit here as well. Australia should have sent a security team to assess the situation - that is the least they should have done.

And Geoff Lawson's words - that this might be construed a victory for terrorism over normalcy of life - carry some weight, as do the sentiments of Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, who pointed out that cricket and cricketers have never been targeted in all the violence.

Recent visits by international sides, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, lend further weight to this argument, though the situation has worsened since the former were here. And inevitably, the 2005 Ashes series will be recalled, when Australia continued playing in England after the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London underground. If one can argue that the background environment in both countries is at least two worlds apart, then another can say equally that it only takes one attack to derail matters.

Ultimately, there is no clear wrong or right in this. It just is and it is an unfortunate, hard-biting reality. Pakistan lose out in many ways: financial losses will be incurred and it also means that the world's best team will not have toured the country for well over a decade when and if they arrive next. Australia's decision, meanwhile, in the context of what is happening here, cannot be wholly and forcefully condemned.

Until the situation in Pakistan improves, however, some countries might want to come, some might not, which perhaps expresses the dilemma as well as it can be expressed

Could the Pakistan board have done more? If so, it is difficult to know precisely what, for the security situation in the country does not come under their remit. One thing they have done right is refuse to shift the series to a neutral venue, which would have reinforced the precedent that was originally set in the aftermath of 9/11. They believe that cricket can and must go on and if Australia or anyone differs, then the two shall respectfully disagree.

That stance might help their staging of the Asia Cup in June, for which India and Sri Lanka insist they will come. After that, in October, might come the real test with the Champions Trophy, when the International Cricket Council will also have a say. Until the situation in Pakistan improves, however, some countries might want to come, some might not, which perhaps expresses the dilemma as well as it can be expressed.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roger on March 15, 2008, 7:09 GMT

    The fact is that Cricket is a sport and however safe or unsafe a country is it's not worth maybe losing your life to play in a war torn country. People say the terrorists have won, What a load of bull, They've lost if anything because no country will tour there, Not just us. Pakistan had the chance to play on neutral grounds again but chose not to, Well, Bad luck, Let's move onto the West Indian tour. Cheers

  • Mohamed Yahya on March 14, 2008, 16:45 GMT

    I have been suggesting for a long time that Pakistan should have agreed to tour Australia now and swap the schedule with Australia to come in November this year instead.

    This would have solved the problem since it was obvious to everybody except the stupid, inept PCB bosses that Astralians are dilly dallying and have no intention of coming whatsoever and are only wasting time.

    If that could not be arranged, than at least, PCB had time to make some other arrangement rather than running like beggers and making a laughing stock of themselves and Pakistan.

  • BHAVIK on March 14, 2008, 9:12 GMT

    Another cancelled tour by Aussies.It's becoming old,bad habit of calling tour off.Agreed,PAK is not one of safest nation to play,but under tight security,it is manageable.Aussies just seems very disinterested in tour for many reasons.Not sending their security experts to PAK clears the picture.The aussie security officials have even warned not to tour India,too,what a joke?They didn't took leaf out of IND,SA,ZIM having toured successfully without hickup.IND noticed great support,hospitality from fans ,people,others.The bottomline is over the years Aussies r reluctant not to tour in subcontinent.they tour only if certain milestones r to be acheived,like winning series in India.Steve Waugh on 2001 tour after losing test series said ,"his side was not interested in playing ODI's in India".ICC should intervene and just disqualify AUS from champions trophy 2008 in PAK.If AUS do come for C'mpions trophy,its time asian countries and others to launch protest agnst AUS for suspension/penalties

  • Ketan on March 14, 2008, 1:05 GMT

    To tour or not to tour has many angles. Pakistan's political scenario is in doldrums and they would always try hard to see that the trip is on just to prove that its okay to be in Pakistan; and similarly the Aussies are for a change a hunted pack and thanks to india everyone is gleefully wanting to have a "go" at them. Undoubtedly they will be back in their normal clinical winning habits sooner than later. Though it would have been better for them to tour the big question would always be "What is the risk if something goes bad?" This itself is a huge deterrent. I think the Pakistani leaders should stop saying things like "Sports are out of the terrrorism list.These guys have no regard to anybody life or family - do you think they will give a thought to sportsmen. By saying such things in public - they are (knowingly or unknowingly) offering an idea to the terrorists as to where to attack next.

  • saif on March 13, 2008, 20:13 GMT

    I disagree with most of the negative comments regarding the cancellation of this tour. I'm neither an Aussie nor a Pakistani. I also disagree with Imran Khan putting the blame of the cancellation at President Musharraf feet. He's just politicizing the issue. I don't think Imran would have handled the 9/11 decision to join the war on terror with the US any differently than President Musharraf did. Colin Powell, relaying his boss's orders, didn't give Pakistan any other option. It was a clear message: "You (Pakistan) are either with us or against us". So please stop Musharraf bashing. Lack of money has nothing to do with Aussies cancelling the tour. Security of players is of utmost importance. Suicide bombers are running havoc in Pakistan. If players cannot go out of their hotel for shopping or to have a walk, then its definitely a unsafe place.

  • Normal on March 13, 2008, 10:02 GMT

    Imran Khan partially is correct to say that the assassination of Bhutto played quite well on Australian minds.It is quite shocking when a front runner like "bhutto" is assassinated & the federal investigative agency is turned into rubble.It is arguable that cricket & cricketers is not on the target for terrorist,but who knows when it would b & y it shouldn't b.These & many more questions should have been at the back of mind of the Australians.I am surprised,y Pakistan did not travel 2 Australia or provided neutral venues for the series as an alternate.After all,in the current scenario Australian board has enough money,but the PCB doesn't,it was in their own interest to resolve issues rather then postpone.But,the whole system in Pakistan is at its sickening state,therefore nobody is ready to take decisions & learn to b active participants as their Indian rivals,who would not only resolve issues,but get the balance favoured in their side.Its just poor administration & thinking.

  • Mujtaba on March 13, 2008, 9:19 GMT

    I live in Lahore and have experienced the effects of these suicide bombings first hand.i am sad to admit that the Aussies were probably right in not wanting to visit but at the same time its ironic that Pakistan is fighting and paying for a war which does not concern us directly.This whole situation is a direct result of becoming an ally of US led war on terror.....which has been nothing but bad news for Pakistan.I hope this mess gets sorted before it is too late.

  • Hassan on March 13, 2008, 2:51 GMT

    Lets face the facts. Aussies decision to pull out was meant to be. They've already decided not to play Pakistan a long time ago. It is obvious that there not too much money involve coming to Pakistan, although there is alot playing in India (IPL / ICL). Well If Pakistan have any Pride left, they should not tour Australia until they fullfil their commitment. If in case they decide not to fullfil their promise, then Pakistan should pull out of Australian tour as well. Pakistan should show and earn their respect back as it used to be. By Being the Best in the world, so every team wants to play Pakistan. Although I hope these comments should be pass down to both boars CA and PCB. I think Pakistan Govornment should be strict and bring Strong Law and Order so people should not be scared to visit Pakistan.

  • Nathan on March 12, 2008, 23:48 GMT

    Osman - thank you for a balanced and realistic assessment of the situation. This contrasts greatly with the narrow minded position taken by Kamran Abbasi in his blog.

    It is unfortunate that the tour was postponed/cancelled, and I can understand the frustration, even anger, of Pakistani cricket fans being denied the opportunity to see Australia tour their country. However, I would like to make a point to the people who are saying that the tour cancellation is a victory for terrorists - this may be true, but the killing of a member or members of the Australian cricket team would be a much greater victory, so I think that the decision not to tour is a sensible one.

    Let us hope that the circumstances in Pakistan normalise as soon as possible, and that Pakistan cricket does not suffer too much from the current situation, because the Pakistan side has always been one of the most exciting and flamboyant teams in international cricket.

  • mansoor on March 12, 2008, 12:45 GMT

    Being a Pakistani it is sad to see Aussies not coming. But what is even more sad is to accept the truth. As a Pakistani cricketer, i will be thinking a million times before visiting a country where 13 suisidal attacks have taken 261 lives in 2 months and 12 days this year. So no real blame can be pasted on Aussies. And offcourse the Australian team would be a very high profile target and terrorists love high profile targets. With huge disappointment and sadness, i must admit that this decision is correct. And i must say to my pakistani freinds that dont really stress on asking Aussies to come to pakistan. we all know how competent our agencies are and if something God Forbids happen, it will be a scar on our faces for the rest of our lives. so play with bangladesh and pray for better conditions of our country.

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