ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 23, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 43

Pakistan tour: Points to ponder

By Peter Roebuck

No surprise need be felt that the tour to Pakistan has been cancelled. It is not possible to ask sportsmen to represent the nation in a place where the High Commission has been closed and purported visitors have been strongly advised to stay at home. It is not possible to expect a team to play cricket in a country where the governing body of the game was unwilling to stage its own Women's World Cup.

The cancellation had an inexorable and profoundly depressing logic about it. Australia has not played cricket in Pakistan since 1998. When will it be deemed safe again? The terrorists are not going anywhere.

Doubtless, it seems safe on the ground in Pakistan. Conceivably, there is a strange sense of peace in the streets, a beguiling calmness that contrasts with the fevered dispatches that appear around the world. Newspapers and television channels are not called upon to present a rounded picture. They report remarkable events — the changing of the guard, not the changing of nappies. Even as vast a nation as Pakistan, with the sixth-highest population on the planet, is seen through the lives of its leaders. Doubtless, the unexceptional daily round goes on, with its shopping and school and work. The carnage must seem far away to the common man, and to the cricket lover deprived of opportunities to watch the champions play.

Of course, the dangers have been exaggerated. That is the nature of security advisers and governments. Even in the worst places in Pakistan, it surely is riskier to drive a car than to be an Australian, let alone one closely protected by the vast resources of the state.

Geoff Lawson made a last-ditch effort to save the tour with a public attack on the attitude of this Australian team. Fresh from the golf course, he pointed out that South Africa and Zimbabwe recently had toured Pakistan and emerged unscathed. He reminded his countrymen that Australia A toured last spring and emerged safe, but with tarnished reputations. He observed that only military targets have been attacked. But Australia is an enemy to some. Sportsmen are not soldiers. They did not sign up for this deal. Moreover, Lawson is not representing a nation fighting in Afghanistan.

Truth to tell, it would not have been much of a tour. Already the trip had been curtailed, with two Test matches and three one-dayers replacing the full program. Every player was to be given a personal guard and asked to remain inside luxurious hotels. Every spectator was to be searched umpteen times by soldiers and policemen. It is not much of a way to play any sport. And local supporters hardly flock to Test matches in the best of times.

Doubtless, the Australian players will be relieved that the tour has been called off. Alas, some of them also will be delighted. Long ago, it was clear that they did not want to go. Plain and simple, the elite players are reluctant to tour Pakistan, and hurry away at the first opportunity. It is not only the Australians. Not long ago, senior South African cricketers tried to have a tour cancelled after a minor explosion in Karachi, and never mind that the incident occurred in an empty warehouse and was part of a gangland dispute. The same wretches fled Sri Lanka after a bomb exploded in a nearby street, thereby forcing numerous school tours to be needlessly abandoned. Happily, they stayed the course on their recent visit to Pakistan. The Australian players have the same pusillanimous outlook. They refused to visit Sri Lanka in the regional World Cup. Just that on this occasion, they have a point.

Now the Australians are free to make piles in supposedly safe places such as Hyderabad and Mumbai. Although they made their feelings known, they were not responsible for the tour's cancellation and so can advance with a clear conscience.

Cricket has been described as the best loved game. Right now, it deserves the opposite tag.

- Australian Age

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