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The Mumbai dilemma for cricket

There would have been a special poignancy to the shocking images from Mumbai during the week for every cricketer - and, to be personal, every cricket journalist - who has ever toured India.

The Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi hotels have housed almost every team undertaking the adventure into a land where cricket is a way of life for its teeming millions. They were tranquil, luxurious sanctuaries from the surrounding sights and sounds that characterise the chaos of every city on the subcontinent.

To see them ablaze, to hear the gunshots, to listen to harrowing reports of innocent hostages taken and killed by callous, anonymous terrorists with an unfathomable agenda sent a chill down my neck. Many West Indian players and myself have stayed at both, so I know I would not have been alone with my emotions.

The experience would have been even more alarming for the Middlesex players, England's representatives in the scheduled Champions Trophy tournament. Had the terrorists planned their attack a day later, they would have been potential hostages in the Taj where they had been booked. Instead, they were stopped from flying out to Mumbai just in time. These are frightening details that occupy the attention of other cricketers and their families.

The repercussions of the mayhem are obvious. While they extend to far more universally significant matters than cricket, the impact on the game was immediate. England cancelled their last two of seven scheduled ODIs and flew home, uncertain whether they would return for two Tests next month. The Champions League, involving top domestic teams from India, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa, scheduled for December 3-10 with Mumbai as one of the venues, was inevitably postponed.

Planned by the Indian board as their latest vaunted showpiece of the Twenty20 revolution, it landed a television deal worth a staggering US$900 million over ten years. With that kind of money, organisers will do everything to get it back on track, as they will for the England Tests. The second season of the equally lucrative IPL, is scheduled for April, distant enough not to require instant attention but of concern all the same.

The real worry, not just for India but for the game as a whole, is that the country will now be perceived by players as unsafe as their neighbours, Pakistan, and also become a no-go area. The threat of terrorism prompted Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies to all cancel tours to Pakistan over the past year and the ICC to postpone the Champions Trophy in September. There is no prospect of a change.

Yet the images from Mumbai were even more chilling than those of October's deadly bomb blast at the Marriot Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, that, like the Taj and the Oberoi, had been the city's home for touring teams.

Indeed, Mumbai was not the first terrorist attack in India during the year. There were previous deadly bomb blasts in Jaipur (two days before a match in the IPL), Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Guwahati (all Test and ODI venues). Their assertive administrators and huge population, India have become the epicentre of international cricket. They provide an estimated 75% of all revenue that would be appreciably reduced should their Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 tournaments now have to be staged, like Pakistan, in offshore venues like Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

It is a point not lost on Lalit Modi, the vice-president of the BCCI, but effectively the real mover and shaker. "It is something we need to think about seriously because becoming sidelined like Pakistan due to security threats is something that is logical," he told the Times of India. "We have to ensure that the security measures we take are the best. As I said, we shouldn't allow such attacks to disrupt our determination."

It seems a long time off at present, but the ICC has awarded the 2011 World Cup jointly to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with 19 cities involved. The possibility of disruption across this turbulent region - the war between the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil Tigers is as active as ever - is clear.

As always, it is the players who ultimately decide where they play. So it is with Pakistan, now and early in the decade when they were obliged to stage Tests against Australia in Sri Lanka and Sharjah and against West Indies in Sharjah. And in the 1996 World Cup when Australia and the West Indies forfeited first round matches in Sri Lanka following a bomb blast in Colombo that killed hundreds. There are many other instances as well.

As his team prepared to fly out of India on Saturday, England captain, Kevin Pietersen, reiterated the case. "I think the BCCI will make every single effort to get us back playing Tests in India because of TV rights, finances and so on," he said. "At the end of the day they run world cricket, so we will see what happens but we will not come back if it is unsafe.

"My life means more to me than anything else. I can totally understand if individual players have misgivings and I am not going to force any adult who has a wife and kids to do anything."

As with everything, it is likely to come down to money. Million-dollar contracts in the IPL and the prospects of hefty winnings from the Champions League are strong enticements.

Manoj Badale, one of the franchise owners for Rajasthan Royals, the IPL champions, made the point. "Terrorism is not just an Indian phenomenon," he said. "It's a reality of modern-day life. If you want to be a professional cricketer you have to be prepared to travel. During the IPL, we had the bombs in Jaipur, so it's not a new experience. Those attacks were close to the ground and close to the players, and we still agreed to keep playing on."

They are comments in keeping with the adage: 'The show must go on'. For the moment, the world weeps for Mumbai.