It was only a matter of time before such a decision had to be made. A global event, cricket's showpiece no less, cannot be organised on ifs and buts, on what may or may not happen. Though it is difficult to imagine it now, the situation in Pakistan may well improve by 2011, but the ICC cannot wait. It has to work on as much certainty as it can, for preparing with anything less is preparing for disaster.
In such darkness, sadness is understandable, even desirable if it brings introspection, but there should be no place for anger. To pretend, as some ex-players seem to be doing that this is a shock, that Pakistan has been somehow cheated is misguided. It is hollow posturing. Could any team seriously be expected to tour Pakistan after what happened in Lahore? The very point of Sri Lanka's visit was to prove that cricket can go on even as Pakistan burns. The only thing the tour finally proved was that the fires within threaten to take everything down with it, cricket being just one relatively insignificant victim.
If that message has not gotten through now, day after deteriorating day, then we can only be embedded in a deep state of denial and that is even more worrying. Ijaz Butt's tasteless attack on Chris Broad and needless defence of the indefensible in the immediate aftermath of Lahore was merely one more drop in this vast ocean of denial. Perhaps it is just that the sheer barbarism, the volume and velocity of atrocity over the last two years has desensitised us. We may be numb to it, but the wounds around the rest of the world are still fresh.
Anyway, believing now that the situation here is no worse than the rest of the region, or that security will be better next time, is to miss the point. It isn't the argument any longer that such an attack can happen anywhere: it has only happened here and nowhere else. In Pakistan, cricket is now a target and given the problems various security forces have had against the threat, given the fact that security institutions themselves are repeated targets, can any international team feel safe here?
The quicker Pakistan moves on from such emotions the better and the quicker the PCB accept that there will be no international cricket here in the near future the better. An alternate home, or a few, must be found. In appearance the Dubai Sports City stadium is magnificent. Younis Khan and his team have been suitably impressed by the facilities. Maybe it will lack soul but people thought that of Sharjah's early days too. Alternatives are present and the board claims it is working on a number of them, but the Middle East is feasible and workable. Some kind of semi-permanent arrangement must be inked in and soon.
"It isn't the argument any longer that such an attack can happen anywhere: it has only happened here and nowhere else. In Pakistan, cricket is now a target."
These ideas are not new. Until now, however, they have mostly been floated by people outside of Pakistan. It would be considerable service if the PCB and the wider Pakistan cricket fraternity tried now to make a case for why they must seek such options; why we must now, even at this late hour, be pragmatic and rational about it and not be slaves to emotion.
Pakistan cannot come out of this alone. The ICC and the cricket world must ensure that Pakistan doesn't continue to meander away like some unruly, sulking misfit. Financially there will be blood; who knows what repercussions there are now for the PCB's recently-inked in TV rights deal? Wealth is concentrated in world cricket, but there is considerable wealth nonetheless and some of it must be spread to make sure Pakistan doesn't wither away. If some kind of compensation can be agreed upon and paid for the potential loss of revenue from the loss of the World Cup, the gesture will be a potent one.
FTP home commitments must now be reworked and flexibility shown in working Pakistan into future schedules. The current FTP mess Pakistan is in is admittedly a result of the incompetence of its own administrations, fumblings it can ill afford to repeat. A year such as 2008 must never come again.
It wouldn't hurt if somehow Pakistan got their team right either. The last two years have been doubly troubling because the team has been poor. Pakistan sides have always been free and easy with focus, direction and discipline, but wherever they were headed they went with an in-your-face, screw-you gusto, difficult not to admire. Recently, they have meekly drifted into a bland, colourless mediocrity, without a fight, without so much as a yelp.
Victory is victory, home, away or in the middle of a desert. And nothing, not even the deepest pockets, eases the pain of so much else - or guarantees relevance globally - quite like sustained success.