As a massive truck bomb blew apart Islamabad's Marriott hotel last Saturday, signaling one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan's recent history, the world of cricket watched on with a mixture of sorrow and nervousness. Most visiting teams stay at the luxury five-star hotel when playing in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, which is just a 30 minute drive away and had a series been scheduled for this month then some of the world's leading cricketers could have been in the Marriott at the time of the blast.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) were still coming to terms with the cancellation of the Champions Trophy, which was due to take place this month but did not go ahead following security concerns, when last Saturday's attack proved another setback to their ambitions of attracting international teams. Rawalpindi was initially chosen as a venue for the Champions Trophy but was later excluded following advice from security experts.
The growing chorus of concern within cricket over touring Pakistan is led by Australia, who were supposed to play a Test and one-day series in the country earlier this year but refused on security grounds. Australia have not toured Pakistan since 1998. "It's a tragedy over there and it [would have been] a tragedy if our players or any world players were there," said Darren Lehmann, of the Australian Cricketers' Association.
The violence on the Pakistan- Afghan border and attacks across the rest of the country have had a devestating impact on cricket in the country, leading the PCB to lose millions of dollars in revenue. Of the 10 major cricket playing countries half - Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies - refuse to tour Pakistan insisting that the safety of their players cannot be guaranteed.
No major cricket playing country visited Pakistan this year, while the country has not staged a home series since Oct 2007. According to sources, the PCB are near to broke and decision to use the UAE as a base to stage "home" matches is crucial to the game's future in Pakistan. In addition to signing a three- year deal to play a series of matches at Dubai's new cricket stadium, the PCB also announced yesterday that it had invited the West Indies to play two Test matches in Abu Dhabi. A three-match one-day series has already been scheduled for the capital in November.
A PCB official said: "We have suffered a number of financial setbacks and it is crucial that Pakistan cricket starts generating funds once again. "The cricket playing countries have made it clear that they do not want to visit us so we need to be practical about addressing this situation. "The UAE would prove to be an ideal venue for us because it is close to Pakistan and there are many Pakistanis that live there.
"Playing in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is crucial to our future." The figures speak for themselves. Pakistan have lost anywhere between US$5 million (Dh18.3m) and US$10m per year since the September 11 attacks on New York, when some countries first refused to tour. The Champions Trophy was expected to generate US$50m with the PCB receiving about US$7m for staging the event and television and marketing rights. As the world's leading cricketers now prepare to head to the UAE to face Pakistan, all eyes within the game are turning once again to India, the richest and most powerful cricket playing country.
They are due to tour Pakistan early next year in what is one of the sport's most lucrative series and the PCB's decision to use the Emirates as a temporary "home" ground has partially been taken with this in mind. Faced with an uncertain security situation, the PCB are adamant that the series against their nearest rivals must go ahead for sporting and financial reasons. If, for whatever reason India refuse to tour Pakistan then the UAE would provide a suitable replacement for one of world sports most intense rivalries.