March 6, 2009 5:42 pm

Terror casts doubt over S Asia cricket

The terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore threatens to throw the cricket calendar across south Asia into disarray and take the gloss off the financial lustre that Bollywood stars and industrial magnates have brought to the game.

Within days of the attack, the showcase Indian Premier League has rescheduled its matches for fear of another terror strike and Bangladesh has cancelled a visiting Pakistani tour.

The IPL is hurriedly moving some of its 20 games in a tournament that begins on April 10 following Tuesday’s attack, in which militants opened fire on the Sri Lankans’ bus, killing six policemen and a bus driver.

“We will shortly have a new schedule out,” said Lalit Modi, the IPL’s commissioner, on Friday.

“We want to assure fans and sponsors and all those associated that the IPL is on. There is no question of the IPL moving to another country.”

One of the greatest concerns is whether the police can protect cricketers at the same time as the country holds month-long parliamentary elections.

Palaniappan Chidambaram, home minister, has expressed misgivings about India’s capacity to secure the elections and a big cricket contest at the same time, and some state ministers have appealed for the championship’s delay.

The proposed new schedule would avoid clashes between cricket matches and polling days.

Mumbai has replaced Jaipur as host for the opening ceremony on April 10. The IPL is also considering changing the venues of some matches.

The IPL has attracted some of the world’s best international players, including England’s Kevin Pietersen and Australia’s Shane Warne. But this week’s attack has cast a shadow over the run-up to the cricket carnival, which was already operating under the shadow of last November’s Mumbai terror attacks.

Some players, rattled by the singling out of sportsmen by militants, have expressed fears about playing in the region at a time of widespread militant activity and heightened tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.

The International Cricket Council, the game’s governing body, is considering the risks to the 2011 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Indian authorities are also considering what extra measures they may have to take to protect next year’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Pakistani authorities claim to be making headway in identifying the Sri Lankan team’s attackers. “We have identified the people who did the operation. We have made arrests, we are chasing them,” said Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, where Lahore is located.

But since the attack, Pakistan’s Cricket Board has been stung by widespread criticism that security in Lahore was woeful.

The Pakistani team was expected to arrive in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, on Saturday for a series of one-day matches. However, the Bangladesh Cricket Board postponed the tour because of security concerns.

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