Lahore blast undermines efforts to bring back cricket to Pakistan

ECB chief Giles Clarke visited Lahore last month, and as head of ICC's special task force on Pakistan cricket, submitted a positive report on the security situation to the ICC.

By: Express News Service | Updated: February 15, 2017 9:52 am
psl final, psl final lahore, lahore blast, lahore psl, pakistan super league final, pakistan super league, pakistan cricket, pakistan bomb blast, lahore bomb balst, cricket, cricket news, sports news Security men stand alert outside the Gadaffi stadium in Lahore. The city, which witnessed a deadly bomb blast on Sunday, is scheduled to host the Pakistan Super League final on March 5. (AP Photo)

Pakistan’s efforts to resume hosting international cricket in the country were dealt a severe blow when the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was left weighing its options over the fate of the scheduled Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in Lahore after a suicide bomb attack killed 15 people and injured over 80 in the city.

In the immediate aftermath, foreign players scheduled to turn out in the PSL final had refused to travel to Lahore after the terrorist attack on Sunday evening, according to the PSL chairman Najam Sethi, Geo News channel confirmed.

“The one option we have now is that if the people of Pakistan want, we can hold the PSL final in Lahore without the foreign players and officials,” Sethi said.

Sethi added the security agencies had assured state level security for the final if it was held in Lahore.

However, the deadly blast pushed back Pakistan’s hopes of hosting international teams again. Big-time cricket has come to a standstill in Pakistan since the terrorist attack on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan team in March 2009 with most countries’ cricketers refusing to travel to the high-risk venue. The PSL final after months of seeming calm in Lahore, was expected to reassure more countries of the country’s safe playing conditions. However, those dreams now lie in tatters. “We have as yet not decided what to do, but in the next few days, I will have another talk with the foreign players and see what happens,” Sethi said.

The PCB was keen to have the PSL final in Lahore to show that the security situation had improved in the country and had even invited security specialists and officials of other boards to come and witness the final.

In fact, in a lengthy press conference addressed by the PCB chairman Shahryar Khan over the weekend, the veteran administrator had expressed his optimism that cricket in Pakistan could resume.

Having travelled to the ICC meeting in Dubai, where he met ECB chief Giles Clarke, Khan had insisted that cricket was on its way back to start trickling into the country. Clarke had earlier been on a brief visit to Lahore last month, and as head of ICC’s special task force on Pakistan cricket, submitted a positive report on the security situation to the ICC.

Khan had stressed a day before the blast that Clarke’s report to the ICC had been very positive. “He mentioned there had been an 83 percent reduction in terrorist incidence. And after seeing Lahore’s ‘safe city project’ with cameras, etc, Clarke was impressed and his report said Lahore’s as safe as any other city in the world. He said that slowly teams should resume playing in Pakistan. And it’s my recommendation that they should. The first step will be the PSL final in Lahore,” Khan had said.

The PCB had invited boards to come and see for themselves, and Clarke had met with the Chief Minister, and chief of police. “We’ve invited all directors of boards and told them if you can’t come at least send your security officers. 2-3 had accepted, and others will send security officers,” Khan had added.

Pakistan had been keen on convincing the bigger teams — Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka to send across their A teams or u-19 squads, academy teams or women’s teams. “The Bangladesh women’s team already came and played in Karachi and are going to send their u-23 team,” Khan had said. It was to help Pakistan’s selectors hunt talent to draft into the seniors team. “We’ve called Nepal, UAE and told Afghanistan also to come. So starting with junior and Associates teams, we’re hoping the major teams will be next,” Khan had said. “Not immediately, there won’t be a big bang.. but slowly it’ll start.”

The PCB was expecting a Zimbabwean minister, a Sri Lankan representative and South Africa’s Haroon Lorgat to attend.

Davis Cup after 12 years

Pakistan had hosted tennis’ Davis Cup tie in Islamabad after 12 years just last week, and Lahore was to host a schools championship of 16 regions, though the PSL final was to be the showpiece event.

However, there had been ominous signs getting into the weekend when three PSL players — Pakistanis all — had been caught by its anti-corruption unit indulging in suspicious match fixing activities. “We dealt with it promptly, because we didn’t want the embarrassment of fixing to stick to PSL. We told the ICC that PCB’s anti corruption unit had taken a lead role in catching the offenders,” Khan had said on Sunday. “Pakistan cricket ki izzat ka sawaal hai. If this final happens in Lahore and everyone supports it, it can be a landmark event. It is important that the security people come and report to their boards,” he had added.

The explosion near the Punjab provincial assembly means another setback as Sethi had contacted the Federation of International Cricketers Association to convince them that foreign players can travel to Lahore and play the final in a safe and secure environment.

Punjab’s law minister Rana Sanaullah, while not ruling out the theory that the suicide attack claimed by a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Talilban was carried out to disrupt the PSL final, insisted security was still good in Lahore.

“We are willing to provide the best security to foreign players. Lahore is still a safe city and the final can be held here,” he said.

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