Last Tuesday was the darkest day in the turbulent history of Pakistani cricket. A day when the game, which has a fanatical following in the country, was hijacked by fanatics of a different kind.
The back-packing terrorists who targeted Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore may not have succeeded in their aim of killing the visiting players, but their bullets and grenades have left a gaping wound right at the heart of the sport in the country. The arguments about whether security for the tourists was adequate or not will rage on, but one fact is now beyond dispute – Pakistan is no longer a safe place for visiting teams.
For years fans, officials and the media there have claimed terrorists would never target cricket to further their aims, whatever they may be.
Indeed, the Australians, who have refused to tour for security reasons since 9/11, were branded cowards by many for their decision. And India, who also pulled out on safety grounds last month and were replaced at the last-minute by the unfortunate Sri Lankans, were also tarred with the same brush.
But tragically for Pakistan, both as a nation and as a cricketing force, the Indians and Australians now stand totally vindicated. It is hard to see how international cricket can ever be staged again in the country following these shocking events. There is no doubt now that Pakistan will lose out on hosting the 2011 World Cup, scheduled to be held there jointly with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. You don't need a third umpire to make that call.
And it could also have wider implications for the region as the ICC may now have a job on their hands to persuade teams to visit Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India – all nations which have their own '"terrorist problems". Whether those teams suffer as a result remains to be seen, but Younis Khan's side are now set for an extended spell in the cricketing wilderness. This latest body blow follows in a long line of controversies that have dogged Pakistan cricket for decades.
From Mike Gatting's explosive confrontation with umpire Shakoor Rana in 1987, to the tragic death of coach Bob Woolmer at the World Cup in 2007, the team have constantly hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Some of the time the damage has been self-inflicted, but all too often it seems that the cricketing gods – as well as large parts of the cricketing media – have it in for Pakistan.
Ball-tampering, match-fixing, drug-taking, assault and even murder, you name it and the finger of suspicion has been firmly pointed at the team and its players. A British newspaper once controversially labelled the side, "The pariah of international cricket".
Unfortunately, due to actions entirely out of the team's control, those words have never rung truer than they do today.
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