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Arjuna Ranatunga - Captain Cool

Foreign cricketers would be questioning if the IPL offer could replace the anxiety of family, writes Ranatunga

Friday, March 06, 2022
Never thought cricketers would be welcomed like soldiers

I never thought I would see the day when cricketers would return in the arms of their families as soldiers often do after a protracted battle at the front. But, sadly, this is what I saw on Wednesday when the Sri Lankan team returned home from Lahore.

It was around half past nine on Tuesday morning when I received a call from the (Sri Lankan) Prime Minister about the terrible incident unfolding in Lahore. For the next four hours, we were on open lines with the Pakistan authorities and our embassy in Islamabad. We feared worst which thankfully was not the case. It has now been replaced by the gnawing feeling that it's cricket which is now fighting for its survival.

Sri Lankan cricketer Ajantha Mendis sits inside an ambulance shortly after his return to Colombo © AFP
I, as a former cricketer and Board official, have often been confronted by the security issue in Pakistan. Last year, as President of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), I took the call for the Asia Cup to be held in Pakistan. It wasn't an easy decision but the assurances from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), in consultation with the government, were comforting.

I personally went over and was delighted to see top-class security arrangements. The Asia Cup passed off without a hiccup. The players were happy too. I am not sure how the security issue between the Sri Lankan board and its Pakistan counterparts was handled this time around. A lot of uncomfortable questions would now be asked. The next big issue confronting cricket in the sub-continent is on hand. Indian Premier League (IPL) is just a few weeks away. Auctions, transfers and security issues were being put in place. Now they would be up for review.

Foreign cricketers, in particular, would be questioning if the enormous sum of money on offer could replace the anxiety of family and sanguine advice of their managers. Such issues invite a herd-like reactions from human beings. Cricketers are no different.

A few walkouts, I fear, could open floodgates. And before you realise, the wheels of cricket would come to a stop. The Indian cricket Board and their government must present a unified, determined stance to the world.

Pakistani policemen are reflected in a bullet-ridden bus, which was carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team © AFP
Their intent and urgency is the key. Any dithering would only add to the insecurity of the visiting cricketers.

The issue is still hot. I hope it would cool down in the next few days. Cricketers and administrators can then think and decide with a clear mind. Cricket, especially in the sub-continent, can't afford to take another hit. But then, is this only the responsibility of the sub-continent's cricket Boards and the governments to clear the mess? The issue might be at our doorsteps but the danger is no less alive for the rest of the world. Everyone needs to join hands to tackle terrorism.

It ought to be crushed with a heavy hand. We have actually seen a helicopter on a cricket pitch. It's symbolic of the gravest threat that has endangered the game we all love.

In the last few hours, I have watched the return of Mahela Jayawardene and his boys to the homeland. Looking at the anxiety, tears and relief on the face of their families was overpowering.

Cricket and war is now being talked in the same breadth. It's a sinking feeling, but we must rise together and take on this menace which confronts our game.