Unease growing over IPL

There is growing anxiety in world cricket over the security situation in India for the IPL next month with Indian government officials suggesting that the tournament be postponed, the franchises admitting to inquiries from players over their safety and the international players association asking for an independent security assessment.

Officials from three franchises told Cricinfo that they had received anxious inquiries from some of the international players in their squads after Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lankan team in neighbouring Pakistan. Tim May, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), has admitted to concerns over security for players in the tournament. And a senior government official based in New Delhi told Cricinfo that conducting the IPL during the country's general elections presented a "near impossible situation" for security forces.

In fact, hours after Tuesday's attack in Lahore, India's home minister P Chidambaram admitted that "it would be better" if the IPL, scheduled to be held from April 10-May 24, was staged after the general elections during the same period.

However, Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, and Sundar Raman, the IPL chief executive, said there was no question of the IPL being postponed. Modi said the IPL was aware of government sensibilities and added the matches would be rescheduled within the present window in such a manner that they would not be held within 24-48 hours of election days in the nine venues across India.

"We will be working closely with the Indian government and we are gearing up to put in place foolproof arrangements," Modi told Cricinfo. Raman said it would help that security would be high in any case for the elections.

Crucially Sharad Pawar, the former BCCI president who still has the final say in India's cricketing affairs, is a powerful union minister and a significant voice in the central government.

However, it appears that the government, especially its home ministry, is not fully convinced - Chidambaram has deputed the country's home secretary to meet IPL officials for further discussions, possibly this week. "It is a far from ideal situation for us," a home ministry official said. "Most of the security cover for the elections will be done by central forces while security for the IPL is to be handled largely by local police. But even then, the role of local police is crucial for a smooth election." Apparently, nearly 97,000 security personnel would be employed for the elections that will be held in five stages across April and May.

The Indian government's concerns are being echoed by players from abroad, too. In a clear reference to the IPL, FICA's May said the players' concerns are not only limited to ICC events and bilateral tours, but also to the staging of domestic events involving international players in "high-risk countries".

"We have written to the IPL on behalf of our members requesting an ability for player representatives to be involved in the evaluation and construction of security for the event - an increasing number of players have expressed a desire for an independent level of comfort surrounding security arrangements regarding this event," May said.

Similar concerns are being voiced by the IPL franchises who don't want the event to be postponed - that would mean financial disaster, they admit - but are worried that some of their foreign players may pull out. "I fear the foreign players could now be reluctant to play in the IPL," Vijay Mallya, the owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, said in Spain. "The tournament is just about a month away and I really fear the repercussions. It (the Lahore attack) is sad and shocking."

Mallya's team purchased Kevin Pietersen last month for a record US$ 1.55 million at the IPL auction but the England batting star is now said to among those who have expressed fears about the prevailing security situation.

"If I were one of the England guys who signed up for the Indian Premier League, I would be concerned," Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach, wrote in the Guardian. "The traffic is often so bad in the big cities where a lot of the cricket is played that the coach can move along only slowly at times, which turns it into a sitting duck for terrorists... I would be very nervous because that kind of attack is much easier to carry out in India - and these guys can attack when they like."

The eight IPL franchises have signed up almost all the top international cricketers -- England's cricketers will make their debuts this year -- and the entire Indian team. The hugely successful BCCI tournament survived a terror attack last year when a series of blasts in Jaipur briefly threatened to derail the inaugural edition last May. However, last November's terror strikes in Mumbai forced the postponement of the BCCI-backed Champions Twenty20 League.

According to Modi, IPL security will be centrally monitored from this year by Nicholls Steyn, the ICC's security consultants. "They had handled the security for some teams during the last IPL but now they are on board fulltime as our central agency," Modi said. Some of the enhanced measures that will be seen at this IPL include CCTV cameras to cover every corner of the match venue and at the gates to monitor the entry and exit of spectators. But Modi and Raman refused to discuss the enhanced security cover in detail as they "would compromise various plans".

Other franchise officials are reluctant to speak on record about the IPL's security scenario but have privately admitted that there is a need for effective co-ordination between the local state association and local police officials. "There were complaints from several venues last time about the level of co-operation extended by local police," a franchise official said. "There was a lot of heartburn over distribution of free passes to senior police officials and over protocol issues. This time, the communication and co-operation with local police has to be 100% foolproof. You can't expect Nicholls Steyn personally to cover the entire stadium in each venue."

The franchises agree though that postponing the tournament would be disastrous. "Really, postponing the IPL is as good as cancelling it for this year because there is simply no other window," another franchise official said. "Any such move would a massive blow for us and the players, especially in the current economic climate."

Raman insists the tournament will go on as scheduled and said the administration was fully geared up. "Every such incident such as this one on Lahore will only reinforce our commitment and responsibility to security," Raman said. "The very fact that England returned to play their Test series here after the Mumbai attacks last November, and did so without any problem, is proof of how safe things are in the Indian context."