Pakistan cricket reels year after Sri Lanka attacks

Pakistani cricket on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of a devastating attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

updated: March 03, 2010 09:56 IST
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Pakistani cricket on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of a devastating attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, searching for a revival of fortune and path out of isolation.

Seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach were injured and eight Pakistanis killed when attackers on foot opened fire and hurled grenades at the tourists' bus en route to the Gadaffi Stadium in the eastern city of Lahore.

The attackers escaped, the second Test was abandoned and the Sri Lankan team flown home as condemnation poured in and the Al-Qaeda-linked menace in Pakistan was again flung under the spotlight.

Lahore police chief Pervez Rathor told private TV channel Express on Wednesday that two presumed attackers had been charged, one killed in a shootout in Punjab province and that five were on the run.

Pakistan blamed the assault on the Taliban and the attack ended hopes in the cricket-mad nation of hosting international matches in the immediate future.

Pakistan had already been a virtual no-go zone for foreign teams since the September 11, 2001 attacks, which put the nuclear-armed country on the front line of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the war against Al-Qaeda.

The Sri Lankan team had been in Pakistan only to replace India who cancelled a tour after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were blamed on Pakistani militants, and suspended a four-year peace process.

Police and the law minister of Punjab province, Rana Sanaullah, laid wreaths at the scene of the attack in Liberty Square on Wednesday, saluting six police and two civilians who were killed and watched by tearful relatives.

"We are here to remember the sacrifices given by our brave policemen. The whole nation is proud of them," said Sanaullah.

"Terrorists want to destroy peace in Pakistan," he added.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and players were also set to hold a memorial ceremony, lay flowers and observe a one-minute silence.

"It was tragic and shook our cricket," PCB chief operating officer Wasim Bari told AFP.

"We must remember all those who gave their lives to save the Sri Lankan cricketers and PCB chairman Ijaz Butt will visit the site to offer prayers for those killed in attacks," he added.

A month after the March 3, 2009 attacks, the International Cricket Council (ICC) stripped Pakistan of the 14 matches it had been scheduled to host for the 2011 World Cup with no international team willing to play.

Butt has said Pakistan lost at least 40 million dollars over India's tour cancellation and feared an annual 70-million-dollar loss in television rights if teams continued to refuse tours.

"We hope that as ground realities change, things will improve and international cricket will be revived in Pakistan," said Bari.

More than 1,130 people have perished in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan since the Sri Lankan assault.

"It was tragic," said former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja, a commentator during the Test when the Sri Lankans were attacked.

"Pakistan is suffering its impact not only in cricket but also in other sports as we have not been able to host any international sporting event," said Raja, a member of an ICC task force striving to revive cricket in Pakistan.

He called for a "re-birth", likening the gravity of the incident for Pakistan cricket to what New York and Washington suffered after the September 11 attacks, and the Indian financial capital after the Mumbai attacks.

Over the last year, Pakistan have been forced to played their home series in United Arab Emirates and New Zealand.

Despite the troubles at home, Pakistan have fared better on the field, with a stunning victory in the ICC World Twenty20 tournament at Lord's last year.

They are due to play Australia in two Twenty20 matches and two Tests -- originally scheduled for Pakistan -- in England later this year.

"For the sake of millions of people who love the game of cricket, international events will come back to Pakistan. I sincerely hope this is not very far," said Bari.