The attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore yesterday has rocked the cricketing world, cast doubts over Pakistan's future as a cricketing nation and brought into question the security and safety of the sport on the subcontinent. With full details of the shooting still emerging, the sport's fraternity is wrestling with the repercussions. The incident provoked impassioned responses, with the International Cricket Council and national boards acting quickly to condemn the attack and offer sympathy and support to the Sri Lankan team.
David Morgan, president of the ICC, speaking yesterday in London, would not confirm whether Pakistan would be banned from hosting future games but suggested neutral venues should be used until the security situation in the country improved. "The landscape of the game has changed, not just on the Indian subcontinent but across the world," Mr Morgan said. "We were told that cricketers in Pakistan would not be targeted. That was proved incorrect.
"The world is a dangerous place but cricket must go on as it brings a great solace to many people. We need to revisit and re-evaluate safety procedures and we will be reviewing this in relation to the World Cup. Teams should not be expected to go to Pakistan in the immediate future, but circumstances can change in a short period of time." Dilawar Mani, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council, which will co-host the Pakistan-Australia series next month, was outraged by the attacks, which could nonetheless result in Abu Dhabi being increasingly used as a neutral venue and potentially serving as a joint host of the 2011 World Cup.
A Pakistan national, Mr Mani said: "This is a terrible day for both Pakistan itself, and Pakistan cricket. "I have kept my Pakistan passport, but the events in Lahore make me feel saddened and ashamed. The country needs to apologise." The attacks mean the UAE will now probably become "home" for the Pakistan team as it looks to play its games on neutral ground. "We do not want to be seen as beneficiaries of such an outrage," said Mr Mani. "Our thoughts go out to both the cricketing nations of Pakistan and Sri Lanka."
He added that the UAE's proposed tour of Sri Lanka in preparation for next month's World Cup qualifying tournament in South Africa was also in doubt as many of the players are Pakistanis. Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka, president of Cricket South Africa, said the sport "is an instrument of peace and justice, and a catalyst for harmony among nations. The players who were shot were ambassadors of these noble causes".
The Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose team had been due to play in Pakistan before withdrawing over security concerns, reflected the views of his players. "We are happy not to be there. I'm pleased the government didn't allow us to tour Pakistan. People say sport is not targeted but we are not immune," he told the cricket website, Cricinfo. Dominic Cork, the television commentator and former England international, was at the Qadafi Stadium in Lahore and described the terrifying moments of the attack.
"It's been a harrowing day. I was in the stadium with the rest of the crew setting up when I heard the explosions go off. There was a lot of shouting and it felt like it was in the stadium itself, it was so loud. "I was among those who thought it was safe to play cricket here in Pakistan. That obviously isn't the case now. The future for Pakistan looks pretty bleak and the security situation is very, very bad. It is devastating and I can't imagine any major international cricket happening for a long, long time."
Three match officials, including a British hero who reportedly dived on top of a wounded Pakistani umpire to protect him, flew into Abu Dhabi last night on their way home to rejoin their families. Visibly shocked by the experience, Chris Broad, the British match referee for Sri Lanka's tour of Pakistan, and the Australian umpires Simon Taufel and Steve Davis were silent as they arrived in Abu Dhabi. They were met at the airport by the Australian ambassador, Jeremy Bruer, and officials from the ICC and quickly driven away.
"These guys have been through a terrible experience," said Mr Bruer. "They need some time to themselves and to get back to their families as quickly as possible." The three were among several match officials travelling in a minibus directly behind the Sri Lankan team's vehicle when it was attacked by gunmen. According to an account given to Reuters by Nadeem Ghouri, a Pakistani Test umpire in the same minibus, Broad dived on top of Ehsan Raza, the fourth umpire, to protect him after he was shot in the back and critically wounded. Broad was later seen walking around in a bloodstained shirt.
Anger at the shootings has been compounded by a feeling that it might have been avoided if security warnings had been heeded. Reg Dickason, the security expert hired by the England and Australia teams, said player safety had been a paramount concern in the decision by Australia not to fulfil its commitments to tour Pakistan. He was quoted by Cricinfo as saying: "A lot of concerns have been raised about tournaments in Pakistan and unfortunately these have come home to roost. The notion of sporting teams being a protected species was held by many, but it was not a view that we shared."
Sri Lanka were the only team to agree to play a series in Pakistan in what the president, Mahinda Rajapakse, described as a "gesture of goodwill", after teams such as India and Australia refused because of security concerns. Sri Lanka were lauded for their bravery and given presidential levels of security. The ICC now faces the challenge of restoring the integrity of the sport, the confidence of coaches, players and officials and limiting the impact on lost sponsorship and media rights revenue.
It may find the answers on its own doorstep. Based in Dubai since Aug 2005, it has already considered making the UAE host for a global event, and with the completion of the new 25,000-capacity Sports City stadium and the opening of the Global Academy, the country is increasingly becoming a focal point for the sport. email@example.com * With additional reporting by Matthew Majendie, Tom Spender and Sarah Tregoning