Nine years on, Lahore ‘scar’ still haunts Pakistan cricket

Pakistan cricket is still reeling from the impact of the attack on the visiting Sri Lankan side in Lahore in 2009, which left a few Lankan cricketers injured.

The attack had crippled cricket in Pakistan for a long time and it is only after a World XI game played last year that international players have started to warm up to the idea of travelling to the nation.   -  AP

It may seem like a long time, but for Pakistan cricket fans, March 3 is a day to forget. On this day, nine years ago, the visiting Sri Lankan team bus was attacked on its way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, leaving a few Lankan cricketers injured.

Panic set in and the cricket fraternity began to ponder if it would be wise to continue cricketing activities in Pakistan. But for millions of cricket fans and thousands of cricketers, it was the beginning of a form of alienation that still continues to haunt cricket in the country.

Though a considerable amount of time has passed since the attack, most of the Sri Lankan cricketers of that team, even today, choose to stay mum on the issue — making it clear that they would not like to think about that terror-struck morning. Its the same case among the Pakistani cricketers too — both past and present — as they tend to stay away from that gruesome incident. However, they unanimously agree that the fateful morning inflicted widespread damage to Pakistan’s cricket.

“The young cricketers were worst hit. They had nothing to look forward to, and with no international cricket at home, they have not been able to show their talents,” former Pakistan spinner, Danish Kaneria, who was a member of the Pakistan side during that Test against Sri Lanka in 2009, tells Sportstar.

The leggie still remembers each moment from that morning. “We were getting ready to reach the stadium and the Sri Lankan team left five minutes before us, and then it all happened. We all were scared,” Kaneria says, adding that the incident tore apart the cricketing culture of the country. “People of Pakistan love cricket and they can’t see international teams play. That incident damaged Pakistan cricket,” he adds.

Ajantha Mendis was among the Sri Lankan players who were injured in the attack.   -  AP

 

Even former International Cricket Council (ICC) chief, Ehsan Mani, who hails from Pakistan, agrees that the Lahore attack has done ‘terrible damage to the game in the country’.

“There’s no doubt about it. Even until recently, there were no teams going to Pakistan. It deprives fans of international cricket, and the youngsters too suffer. Promoting the game has also affected in the process,” Mani says.

The seasoned administrator, however, believes that the situation is improving immensely. “I spend lot of time in Pakistan, and I can see things improving. Even today, if India plays Pakistan, there would be no security issues,” Mani says, adding that the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has aided in improving the situation.

While Pakistan maintained its cricketing activities, most of it was in the United Arab Emirates, where the Pakistan Super League is currently being held. With some of the biggest names involved in the tournament, the expectations were high even before the tournament got underway. But to everyone’s surprise, the stands have been empty and there has hardly been any turnout even for the crucial clashes.

“Look, had PSL been held in Pakistan in the first year itself, overseas players would have been reluctant to go. What happened last year, that with a couple of matches, players were prepared to go to Pakistan. There’s no quick fix solution to this. A player wants to play in a pressure-free zone and that can only happen with long-term confidence building. It’s just got to continue, important steps in the right direction,” Mani said.

In an interview with Sportstar recently, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief, Najam Sethi, had hoped to conduct all the games of the PSL in Pakistan next year. “Eventually, that’s what you have to do to survive,” Sethi had said. And now, with international players too relenting from their stance of not travelling to Pakistan, it looks like a possibility.