ABU DHABI // The UAE cricket squad has cancelled a planned tour of Sri Lanka following the attack by gunmen on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan on Tuesday. With the World Cup-qualifying tournament taking place in South Africa early next month, the UAE had planned to face some of Sri Lanka's top sides in warm-up games and was due to leave on Friday. But with the UAE side composed of several Pakistan nationals who, it was feared, could become potential targets of revenge attacks, the team pulled out of the tour. "It is regrettable," said Dilawar Mani, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council and a member of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB). "But we feel, given the current climate, it is advisable to keep our players here in the UAE." "We are currently in the process of revising our schedule to ensure that the players have top-quality preparation for the qualifying tournament in South Africa, free of any worries about their safety." The former UAE captain and Pakistani national, Arshad Ali, who has always maintained sports teams must not be cowed by security threats, expressed disappointment at the decision. "We are a team and I fully respect the decision taken by our committee, which has our safety as their main concern," said the batsman who led the UAE to ACC Trophy success in 2006. "But I am sad. What happened in Lahore is very bad for cricket and on a human level a terrible thing. "There are a few bad people out there doing bad things and because of that cricket is going to suffer and all the people in Pakistan and Sri Lanka who love the game are also going to suffer."
Arshad, who was due to fly to Colombo with the UAE squad, believes cricket boards must make every effort to adopt a "business as usual" approach in defiance of groups who would seek to sow terror and disrupt the global game for political gain. "My personal view is that in the wider scheme we must continue to play on. We are sportsmen and these things should never have happened to cricket but they did and now we must not let them stop our game," he said. Serious ramifications are expected on both the sub-continent and among wider cricket-playing nations because of the attack, in which up to 14, apparently well-trained, gunmen armed with automatic weapons and rocket launchers opened fire on the Sri Lanka team's bus, killing six security officers and injuring seven players, an umpire and a coach, but Arshad is prepared to act on his convictions. "I understand the reasons why the tour has been cancelled but I would have been happy to go to Sri Lanka," he said. "I have a Pakistani passport and perhaps there might be a fear of retaliation, but nothing has changed for me. I am a cricketer and I want to play."
According to the ECB, top-class Sri Lankan sides will now come to the UAE to play the planned warm-up games, but Arshad is concerned the team's preparations for the all-important South African World Cup Qualifiers may suffer. "I hope we can still get the same practice," he said. "I don't know how our preparations will go now, but we will be working as hard as we can to be ready for the games." Abu Dhabi and Dubai are due to host the one-day series between Pakistan and Australia next month, and Mani said the ECB would review security in the wake of the attack. "We will talk to both countries and the relevant authorities and will do whatever we can to ensure that they feel as safe as possible."