Only 10 days before Australia are scheduled to land in India for their four-Test tour, just hours after a Pakistan team arrived in the national capital to play their Nissar Trophy match against Ranji champions Delhi, serial blasts ripped through the city throwing things into uncertainty.
The first bomb went off at 6.10 pm, close to midnight in Australia and there was no response to phone calls to Cricket Australia's Jolimont Street headquarters in Melbourne. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, however, reacted guardedly. "We are definitely concerned with today's explosions in Delhi. These are testing times," Niranjan Shah, BCCI secretary, told HT. "But I don't think it will have any impact on the coming Australia series."
The BCCI's optimism might prove to be misplaced as the explosions raise serious questions. Only recently, the 'western bloc' — led by South Africa and willingly supported by Australia, England and New Zealand — refused to take part in the Champions Trophy in Pakistan, leading to the tournament being "postponed" to October 2009.
It remains to be seen now, whether Australia continue to consider India safe to tour. They are scheduled to play their first Test in Bangalore, the city where seven blasts caused a spate of injuries and triggered a wave of terror on July 25. One day later, more than 50 died when serial explosions targetted Ahmedabad, where England are scheduled to play in December. Add to this the Jaipur terror attacks in the middle of the Indian Premier League, and the situation is ripe for a pullout from either Australia or England or both.
With the Champions Trophy unable to get off the ground as teams refused to tour Pakistan on security grounds, a precedent has been set, the implications of which are dire, from a cricketing point of view.
Since the pullout, Pakistan have struggled to arrange fixtures. First, they approached South Africa to host a one-day tri-series but the Proteas declined. Sri Lanka followed suit, conveying their inability to play Pakistan at the time.
Such is the Pakistan board's desperation for some cricket that they are casting their net far and wide. They have appealed to the West Indies to travel to Pakistan to play two Tests in November soon after the two teams play ODIs in Abu Dhabi in early November. The West Indies are yet to reply.
Pakistan have also approached New Zealand with an invitation to play two Tests, but the Kiwis were among the teams who were unconvinced by security assurances and, in the recent past, have abandoned tours after bombs went off in the host country. Pakistan's situation is so desperate that they have agreed to a four-day Twenty20 tournament also involving Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and hosts Canada.
It should surprise no one that Pakistan are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It is already September and they have not played a Test match home or away yet this year, and have nothing scheduled till India travel across the border in the new year. 2008 will go down as the first year since 1970 (a different era of cricket, much before the ICC's Future Tours programme came into being) when Pakistan have not played a single Test. Even in 2002, with terrorism concerns at their peak after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA, Pakistan managed 12 Tests, although only one of those was at home, with four being played in Sharjah, as neither West Indies nor Australia agreed to play in Pakistan.
Earlier this month, when the cricket world had a chance to stand by Pakistan in their hour of need, and play the Champions Trophy there, they backed out. What will the response be now, when terror has struck the Indian capital? This after all, is also the home of cricket's economic superpower, the BCCI.