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Assault on cricket team shatters notions of safety

Before the Sri Lankans were attacked, few thought a sport so revered would become a target.

March 08, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

LONDON — Quite possibly no athletes on Earth soak up more zealous reverence than do South Asian cricket players, so the terrorism last Tuesday in the Liberty roundabout of Lahore, Pakistan, profoundly punctured a widespread contention.

It disproved the notion that terrorists would never aim at the gods of a sport that in Pakistan and India rates slightly bigger than colossal, and it did so with bullets and shrapnel in the chests, shoulders and thighs of famous Sri Lankan cricketers lucky to be alive after 12 gunmen opened fire on the stadium-bound bus.

Discharged after surgeons rid his shoulder of shrapnel, Sri Lankan batsman and wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara wrote in London's Daily Telegraph, "We had always felt pretty safe in Pakistan, to be honest. It shows how naive we were. We realize now that sports people and cricketers are not above being attacked.

"All the talk that 'no one would target cricketers' seems so hollow."

As some labeled the attacks on cricketers "blasphemy," Sangakkara praised driver Mohammad Khalil, who sacrificed his life to keep the bus moving despite flattened tires.

He also talked about "a new post-Lahore reality."

In the pre-Lahore reality, when countries such as Australia and India canceled cricket tours to Pakistan last year because of the swell of Pakistan-related terrorism epitomized with the November attacks in Mumbai, India, observers needled them as paranoid, citing cricket orthodoxy.

Imran Khan, the 1992 World Cup-winning Pakistani captain, who later descended to the role of elected parliamentarian, championed that assertion, reckoning that terrorists would steer clear of cricketers to avoid public condemnation.

When his rational guess disintegrated last week in proudly cultured Lahore, Khan joined a bubbling and possibly delusional chorus when, in a Times of London interview, he suspected foreign forces of conducting the attack as an effort to damage Pakistan.

Damage it, it has.

"The Bangladesh Cricket Board has postponed Pakistan's Tour of Bangladesh 2009 as advised by government authorities," went a statement regarding an event slated for April.

New Zealand's team, meanwhile, canceled a trip to Pakistan while International Cricket Council officials acknowledged the unlikelihood of staging events in Pakistan any time soon. In India, there has been much debate over the prudence of going ahead with the wildly lucrative Indian Premier League (April 10-May 24) given the security demands of Indian elections (April 16-May 13). Pakistan's co-hosting of the 2011 World Cup alongside India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka has grown questionable as well.

And England, whose colonization of present-day India and Pakistan seeded the populous cricket affinity of today, has offered itself as a makeshift home field for Pakistan. It also has taken on a fresh, grim wrinkle of thinking in advance of a spate of global sporting events that include the London Olympics in 2012.

The attack occurred only five years after an Indian cricket tour of Pakistan promised animosity between the contemptuous but provoked only harmony.

Observers in Pakistan have noted the baffling possibility that the Pakistani bus, due to precede the Sri Lankan bus but ultimately seven minutes late, might have been part of the intended target. Players have reported that a rocket launcher narrowly missed the Sri Lankan bus.

And in this enormous shift of a global sport, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn has editorialized: "Without setting foot in the country, no one could actually disprove our stand that it was safe to play international cricket in Pakistan. That position, sadly, no longer holds. Tuesday's attack showed that our detractors were right and we were wrong."

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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