THE fact that the final match of PSL was successfully (and peacefully) concluded in Lahore brought sighs of relief all over. There is no reason to feel overly smug about the affair, though. One does have the nagging feeling that there was much more to it than meets the eye. That a smattering of players from other cricketing nations opted to take part in the match was a definite plus. A sports-crazy (no other epithet can better describe it) nation has thereby (hopefully?) sent the clear message – among others – to all and sundry that politics and sport do not make ideal bed-fellows. Also that jumping to hasty conclusions has never been a good policy. The unanswered questions, however, are still begging for answers.
Having got the aforesaid off one’s chest, time may be ripe to take time off for a session of retrospection. What is called for is a good, hard look at where we stand in the whole murky affair and how we got entangled in it in the first place. Our objective – if one can call it that – would be to unravel what Sherlock Holmes would have referred to as the ‘Case of the Missing Cricket in Pakistan’. Sages over the years have rightly opined that it is always a good policy to begin at the beginning. So here goes!
The year was 2009, and the visiting team of Pakistan’s good friend Sri Lanka was in the midst of playing a Test match in Lahore. The mood in the city was festive and a goodly (and excited) crowd was waiting with bated breath at the Gaddafi stadium for the start of the day’s play. This is when disaster stuck. The bus carrying the Sri Lankan team was approaching the stadium when it became victim of a deadly militant attack. Luckily no player lost his life, though many suffered injuries. All thanks to the courageous bus driver who had the gumption to speed the bus out of harm’s way and on to the stadium. These are some of the available facts of the case. There were left dangling several loose ends, though, which no attempts appear to have been made to tie up. Several questions, meanwhile, have popped up, begging for answers. What follows is a layman’s clumsy attempt to make sense of it all.
The mystery, meantime, has given birth to several sub-mysteries. Let us allude to one instance: not too long after the attack, our ever vigilant visual media started showing footage from the CCT cameras en route. In this footage, the terrorists could be seen brandishing their weapons all around the site of the terrorist attack. They appeared in no hurry and no security people or other persons to challenge them were visible. This raises pertinent issues and these in turn leading to myriad unanswered questions.
For one, why was no effort made to use this footage to identify the terrorists and nab at least one of them? Security agencies have been known to catch criminals with the help of skimpier material. And yet this terrorist group appears to have melted into thin air. The Sri Lankan team was whisked away by helicopter to the airport and flown home apparently without even formally recording their preliminary statements. The case against the terrorist group was perhaps considered too hot to handle. The result was that an angry and horrified public was left to freely speculate and draw its own conclusions. Common view was that if even one of the terrorists had been identified and/or taken into custody, the case could have been cracked open and the sorry events that followed avoided.
Post the events afore-narrated, a shocked public learnt to its horror that this country had been declared off-limits for visiting cricket teams. This decision of the denisens of International Cricket Affairs appears to have been accepted lying down. One finds in the archives little or no effort to challenge this edict or to clear the fair name of the country. The decision of the International Cricket honchos appears to have been accepted lamely, sans protest and without reservation by our cricket establishment. By hind- sight, the man in the street may be excused for looking askance at the authorities’ quiescence in the fait accompli resulting in the complete absence of international cricket from this blessed land.
Around this time, big wigs of the game in this blessed land came out with the bright idea of ‘out-sourcing’ the game by anointing the land of the sheikhs as venue for our ‘home series’. It may have made financial sense to the local czars of cricket, not to talk of the sheikhs, but made little sense to the man in the street who was wedded to the idea of being part of a live crowd cheering their heads off to buck up their team.
Fast forward to the present, when the prime movers of the PSL have tried with some success to use a pseudo-international match to whet the palate of the lovers of the game! Credit is due also to the people of Lahore for having responded enthusiastically and without reservations. It is something of a pity that some people who aught to know better could not resist the temptation of playing politics on an occasion that showed semblance of a light (however dim) at the end of the tunnel.
The people of Pakistan owe it to the nation to put their shoulders to the wheel and do everything possible to attract international sport to return, grow and flower once again in this blessed land. Surely the lovers of sport in this country – and there is no dearth of them – deserve a break. It would be nothing less than a tragedy if they were to face disappointment once again. If the aforesaid has had the effect of ruffling a few feathers, one can do no better than offer one’s sincere apologies all around.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.