A bomb blast in Lahore has, according to the Pakistan Super League (PSL) chairman Najam Sethi, made it very difficult for foreign players to feature in the final of the second season which, until the bombing, was set to be played at Gaddafi Stadium on March 5.
Speaking on his political talk show on Geo TV Sethi also said the question now of where the final should be played, was one that fans would have to decide. The explosion, which has so far claimed 13 lives, went off in Lahore's busy Mall Road during a rally on Monday attended by hundreds of pharmacists protesting against changes to a drug sale law outside the provincial assembly building.
Ever since the PSL announced that the final will be played in Lahore, the question of whether - and which - foreign players might attend has loomed. Sethi briefed foreign players about the security situation in Lahore last week ahead of the start of the league in Dubai. He said on the show that though the players had a number of questions and didn't commit, "they were mentally preparing to play in Lahore". By February 24th or 25th, if the players had not decided or were not ready to travel, the league was going to hold another draft to see which foreign players from any of other franchises were willing to travel to Lahore play for the finalists.
"What can I tell you?" Sethi said when asked what the reactions of foreign players were after news of the bombing. "Obviously people will be more wary and scared - they were already and now will be more. So right now to say whether we can convince them easily is very difficult… Now I will have to start all over again. I cannot say that we will be successful or not because they have families, they will have their associations which will guide them."
Though Sethi and the PCB have insisted all along that the final will go ahead in Lahore, with or without foreign players, the increasing probability that none may come now, would seem to have compelled a shift in that stance. On his show, Sethi asked the public to decide whether they want to see a final in Lahore most likely only with Pakistani players, or a final in Dubai with foreign players as well.
Sethi did expand on his personal belief, that the final should go ahead and be played in Lahore."[People] were calling me up as well [and saying] that whatever the situation this is Pakistan's resolve that the PSL final has to happen [in Lahore]. That we have to show terrorists that we are not scared and we have to show we can do it because it is very important for us.
"I agree with this and this is my thought. I also think that these terrorists cannot think they can threaten us like this, that they can stop our businesses, stop our lives. No. We will stand firm, we will fight, we will do this. In that matter this is my resolve and I can see it is the resolve of every Pakistani, and their desire of having the final in Lahore. This is our stance. I think the Punjab government will be the same.
"But the situation is this that the question Pakistanis have to answer is if the foreign players do not agree to come to Lahore, or a lot of them don't, should we still have a final with just Pakistan players in Lahore, or should we have it with foreign players and do it in Dubai? This is the question the Pakistani public has to answer and whatever their wish we will see to it.
"My heart says we have to show the world. If foreign players come to Lahore then good and if they don't, then with our Pakistani players we should have a PSL final in Lahore. But I want public opinion on this, I want cricket-lovers to tell me, cricket fans - what do they want? Whatever they want, we will do."
Last month, the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) issued a report warning that an "acceptable level of participant security and safety cannot be expected or guaranteed" in Pakistan. In response, the PCB accused FICA of doing "great disservice to the cause of Pakistan cricket in particular" and called their approach "careless and cavalier", which then prompted FICA to issue a justification.