When Cricket Australia’s head honcho James Sutherland declared to the public that the Australian cricket squad would not be attending their scheduled tour of Pakistan there was a sigh of relief around the continent.
Benazir Bhutto had been tragically and callously assassinated by cowardly opponents several weeks earlier after addressing a rally at Liaquat Bagh, a municipal park in Rawalpindi named in honour of Liaquat Ali Khan, the original prime minister of Pakistan, who was ironically assassinated in the same precinct.
This event cascaded throughout the Australian media and hardly an evening passed during the endless aridity of the southern summer without a report with associated bloody pictures of wailing women and a whisper of the dreaded, nameless, faceless phantom-like suicide bombers.
It was, after all, too easy for Cricket Australia to cancel the tour. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs issued a severe travel warning to all visitors to Pakistan and public sentiment was, quite fairly despite the exaggerated hysteria, on the side of caution. That the ICC were unwilling to allow the scheduled Women’s World Cup to proceed on the hard, unforgiving grounds of Pakistan only reinforced the view.
Obviously, the atmosphere in the streets of Pakistan is one of calm. People drive to work, do the shopping, send their kids to school and go about their business as they always have. Yet, this reality is hardly discernible on the televisions, newspapers and radios of the West. The lens and pens are focussed entirely on the leaders and the popular and morbid fascination with death, destruction and martyrdom.
An Australian Test XI hasn’t set foot on Pakistan soil for a decade and although there are arguments in favour or not, and obvious questions of hypocrisy when you consider the bombings in London in 2005 and the perennial attacks within Indian cities, the question needs to be posed; Should our sportsmen be asked to represent their respective nations in a place where the national government warns vehemently against visiting?
Tomorrow: A review on the ODI series hastily arranged after Australia neglected their responsibilities to our cricketing brothers and sisters in Pakistan.