Facing up to a new threat

Facing up to a new threat

The attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore rocked the sporting world

Facing up to a new threat

Younis Khan’s Pakistan won the T20 World Cup in style.

Secure in the knowledge that they were far removed from being targets of terrorists, sportspersons the world over were in for a rude shock in March when Sri Lanka’s cricketers were specifically targeted in Lahore when they were on their way to the Gaddafi stadium for a Test match against Pakistan.

The tales of shock and horror, and the injuries – physical and psychological – to the likes of Thilan Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis, among others, are too fresh in memory to require repetition. For the first time since Israeli athletes came under sustained and lethal terrorist attack during the 1972 Munich Olympics, sporting personalities weren’t accidental, collateral victims of a terror strike. It was chillingly scary, and all too symbolic of the troubled times we live in. The cricket world, if nothing else, will never be the same again. The Lahore attack will remain the abiding cricketing memory of 2009. Sri Lanka, bravely, chose neither to stop playing cricket nor traveling. They had their fair share of success on the field, but for sheer guts and resolve, they were the undisputed champions of the year. Bravo!

Already in the throes of chaos and extreme violence, the Lahore attack did little to restore Pakistan’s credibility as a safe cricketing destination. Consequently, the Pakistanis were forced to play ‘home’ matches in the United Arab Emirates as well as distant New Zealand, but it didn’t seem to affect their performances any.

Under the mercurial Younis Khan, Pakistan applied some balm to the festering wounds of their suffering countrymen by going on to win the World T20 in June. That they met Sri Lanka in the title clash lent added poignancy to the occasion.

Pakistan also reached the semifinals of the Champions Trophy in South Africa in October, but the same Younis who was deified after the T20 triumph was castigated and accused of being in collusion with undesirable elements when, nursing a broken finger, he dropped Grant Elliott to allow New Zealand to sneak into the final against Australia.

While New Zealand, finally, cleared the semifinal hurdle, they just couldn’t find a way past Australia’s intimidatory presence in another Cup final. The Aussies became the first repeat winners of the Champions Trophy, another feather in their overcrowded cap, but the aura surrounding the Australian cricket team diminished substantially in the last 12 months.

Ricky Ponting became only the second Aussie skipper to lose two away Ashes campaign as Andrew Strauss led England to a famous 2-1 victory not long after an acrimonious spat between Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores saw the former lose the captaincy and the latter his job. By the end of the year, Australia were being stretched by even the West Indies, only just regrouping after a player revolt against the cricket board’s lackadaisical approach towards contractual matters; equally damningly, several of Ponting’s men spent as much time with the match referee as at the gym, Aussie player behaviour hitting an abysmal low.

The contract dispute forced the West Indian Cricket Board to put out a second-string side for the home series against Bangladesh and the Champions Trophy. Predictably, they were severely battered, but out of  that crisis emerged unpolished gems such as Kemar Roach, a tearaway with the attitude of a heavyweight boxer who put Ponting through the wringer earlier this month.

The Umpire Decision Review System made a contentious entry into Test cricket and evoked mixed reactions, teams yet to figure out conclusively what parameters umpires adopt when they adjudicate on a player challenge. The absence of the UDRS in the India-Sri Lanka series didn’t amuse the Lankans; England coach Andy Flower wasn’t thrilled with it per se, particularly given that the UDRS isn’t totally foolproof. Then again, what is?!

The second edition of the Indian Premier League had to be hastily trans-located to South Africa after the Union Government expressed its inability to provide comprehensive security, given that the IPL clashed with the general elections. The Proteas welcomed the T20 extravaganza with open arms and the tournament was an unqualified hit for the second year running, even if the inaugural Champions League in India didn’t entirely fire the imagination.

There was a change of guard in Sri Lankan cricket as Mahela Jayawardene stepped down as skipper and his great mate Kumar Sangakkara took over by the World T20, while the Pakistani captaincy continued to resemble Russian Roulette after the ‘now-yes, now-no’ Younis chose to take a ‘break’ from the international game.

Charles Coventry struck a blow for the minnows by making the joint highest score in one-day international cricket, 194 not out for Zimbabwe against Bangladesh, but the blows struck by the terrorists in Lahore reverberated the most. What a shame!