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You have to be a Pakistani to feel this

Pakistan’s point, and a valid one at that too, was they had hosted the six-nation Asia Cup in june-july peacefully, writes Shahid Hashmi.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2008 23:22 IST

There was despair everywhere.

“We seem to be fighting the war against terror alone, and paying the price,” said a cricket official. Captain Shoaib Malik agreed. “We are facing a cricket poverty.” Their feelings summed up the mood in Pakistan after the Champions Trophy was postponed over fears of safety and security.

You have to be a Pakistani to feel this loss. It has left Pakistan cricket and millions of fans deprived of an event when it was needed badly. Had it taken place it would have paved the way for more international cricket in Pakistan. As of now, Pakistan has become a ‘no go’ zone for non-Asian teams for another year, maybe more.

Cricket’s superpower India and the game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) fought valiantly to keep the game’s second most prestigious competition after the World Cup in Pakistan till the last moment. The ICC even risked an ‘Asia and non-Asia’ divide in its pursuit to keep the event in Pakistan.

Sadly, the ICC president David Morgan acted more like an England and Wales Cricket Board chairman than a top man of the international governing body, for he too was worried about the safety of players in a country which is wrongly labelled ‘troubled’. Once South Africa shocked the cricketing fraternity by pulling out, the writing was very much on the wall. The move reeked of double standards, for the Proteas had so successfully toured Pakistan just 10 months ago.

But the low point came from Down Under. Australian cricketers and their overzealous media had made up their minds much before. Yet they, knowing fully well of their deserved reputation for pulling out of tours to Pakistan, did not want to be the first to do so this time. And instead, that distinction went to South Africa. It is not clear whether in seriousness or jest, but an Australian newspaper claimed that the Tamil Tigers had assured them they would not target the event if it was relocated to Sri Lanka, the alternate venue.

Pakistan’s point, and a valid one at that, was they had hosted the six-nation Asia Cup as recently as in June-July. That went off peacefully and the foreign security hawks found it difficult to get the players’ opinion on security arrangements because they were mostly out of their hotels!

For the record, Indian players are always more at risk in Pakistan. There were threats issued against them but they have come to Pakistan thrice in the last four years. Aren’t they human beings, too? It was the duty of international cricketers — it wasn’t as if they are risking their lives by playing in Iraq — to support Pakistan and play for a cause, under tried and tested security arrangements. It was silly of them to express doubts over the security plans Pakistan had promised.

Imran Khan summed it up well. “It is a great tragedy,” said Imran, a politician and despite being a critic of the current government, did not back the postponement. “Not having a mega event will not only hurt Pakistan financially, but also interest-wise and development-wise. Pakistan badly needed cricket.” Wasim Akram also felt for the fans. “For so long, the non-Asian nations are depriving us of cricket. Australians have double standards. Had there been big appearance money like in the IPL, they would surely have come. Everyone saw that they did not raise a voice when bombs went off in Jaipur. Like every Pakistani, I am disgusted.”

Cricket is the only entertainment in Pakistan. It also unites an otherwise wayward nation. Sadly, that chance at forging a peace, however temporary, was taken away. Even the most optimistic of fans doubt that it will happen next year because it is impossible to win the war against terror so soon. Also, conceptions are unlikely to change overnight.

The writer is an eminent Pakistani journalist, based in Karachi.