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Pakistanis come off worst

Posted in World Cricket

Ajantha Mendis

Ajantha Mendis, one of seven players injured in the attack, heads for hospital

The list of victims, as ever in these circumstances, makes gruesome reading.

Six policemen and two civilians dead. An umpire recovering from an operation to repair a collapsed lung. Two Sri Lanka cricketers hospitalised. Five other players and an assistant coach injured.

They and countless others unfortunate enough to be on or around the Sri Lanka team bus when it came under attack from gunmen in Lahore will no doubt bear the emotional scars of this horrific incident for much longer than any cuts or bruises.

Sympathy must first and foremost go to the families of those killed, people who died in the line of duty but who have, shamefully, failed to warrant a mention in certain reports of events.

As much as we are cricket fans and pay an interest in what happens to cricketers around the world, the idea that the lives of Sri Lanka players are any more important than the security personnel protecting them is, at best, despicable.

But amid the roll call of those affected by the senseless attacks, there is one group which has been received scant mention: Pakistani supporters.

Before charges of hypocrisy come flying my way alongside none-too-polite requests to get my priorities in order, I am not for one minute ignoring the plight of those directly involved in what is sure to be remembered as one of the most disturbing events in cricket history.

But their plight has been well documented by this site and many others, while the millions of cricket followers in a country whose name has been irrecovably tarnished by the senseless acts of a deluded few have been afforded precious little coverage.

These are fans, remember, who had been deprived of Test cricket for almost a year and a half, and fed only a meagre diet of one-day internationals throughout 2008.

The opening Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Karachi last month was the first on Pakistani soil since October 2007, and that the series was taking place at all was down to Sri Lanka’s willingness to step into the breach after India, under instructions from their Government, refused to tour.

Helicopter, Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore

A helicopter airlifts the Sri Lanka players to safety, a shocking sight on a miserable day for Pakistanis

Indians’ love of cricket is common knowledge, but it would be foolish to assume Pakistanis are much less passionate about what many regard as their national sport.

As Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, admitted in the aftermath of the attack, the future of Pakistan as a venue for international cricket looks bleak.

But, while he admitted the country “cannot blame teams if they do not travel to Pakistan”, that will be of little consolation to the vast majority of peaceful, cricket-loving public who face the grim prospect of not being able to see their team in the flesh - for the foreseeable future at the very least.

The attack was shocking not only because it represented the first time a cricket team has been specifically targeted by terrorists, but also because it took place in an upmarket district of Lahore, itself seen as one of the more liberal cities in Pakistan.

To make matters worse, images of machine gun-wielding terrorists rampaging through the streets were beamed around the world, the latest example of bad publicity for a country already wracked by political, religious and economic strife.

On a broader note, the bubble which seemed to protect sport from terrorists - the 1972 Munich Olympics excepted - has been well and truly punctured, yet maybe it should not come as such a surprise that it has taken extremists this long to realise they can hog the sports channels as well as the news channels.

If their ambition was to further alienate Pakistan from the outside world, they appear to have succeeded in cricketing terms.

But if the lunatics who carried out this attack do indeed hail from Pakistan, as reports suggest, they have done so at the expense of their own people.