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Pakistan unlikely to play at home any time soon

Lahore: A year ago, Pakistan captain Younus Khan delivered an impassioned appeal to the cricketing community to resume tours of his troubled country after their team had unexpectedly won the Twenty20 World Cup at Lord`s.

Younus is no longer in the team, England now hold the World Cup and Pakistan are still forced to play all their internationals abroad because of the parlous security situation at home. They start the first of a two-test series against Australia at Lord`s in London on Tuesday.

Pakistan`s current isolation was precipitated by the armed attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in March last year in which militant gunmen killed seven people and injured six team members and a coach.

No country has toured since and the prospects of any immediate resumption of normal relations remain bleak.

"The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3, 2009 was the death knell for cricket in Pakistan," Sajjan Gohel, the international security director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based think tank, told reporters in an email.

"For the foreseeable future it is impossible to hold major sports events in Pakistan because of the serious and legitimate concerns regarding Pakistan`s security infrastructure and the growth of terrorism that continues to proliferate in the major urban cities."

International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Haroon Lorgat said the problem was essentially political.

"I can`t crystal gaze but things can change overnight," he told Reuters by telephone from the world governing body`s Dubai headquarters. "It`s not a cricketing issue. There`s very little we can do."

Wisden cricket almanac editor Scyld Berry suggested in his opening notes in the annual publication this year that a secure fortress containing a cricket stadium might be a solution.

In a telephone interview, Berry said the stadium could be placed on the outskirts of a Pakistan city.

"Teams could just fly straight in, play and get out again. That might be a particularly claustrophobic week but it`s a lot better than nothing," he said. "You could stage one test match and three one-dayers or a handful of Twenty20s."

Former ICC president Ehsan Mani, a Pakistani now based in England, said a better option could be to base overseas teams in Dubai and fly them into Pakistan for matches.

"That might be a more viable solution than a fortress. No player is going to like being locked up, they are not gladiators who are being thrown to the lions when the games are on," he told reporters by telephone.

"They want to go there, they want to enjoy the social life, they want to enjoy the country."

Mani added the problem was exacerbated by what he said was the Pakistan Cricket Board`s (PCB) failure to submit a report on the Lahore shootings to the ICC.

"There was clearly a lapse of security for the Sri Lankan team and the fact that that report has not come out yet creates a big credibility gap," he said.

"One has got to be realistic about these things. One has to reassure the world about the security measures in Pakistan. That can`t happen overnight, it might take a year or 18 months from the time they start working on it."

Gohel remains a pessimist.

"You could have a cricket pitch with a fortress surrounding it, and even place it on top of a hill, but if those that are providing the security are in collusion with the radicals and extremists then it does not really matter," he said.

"There are major terrorist attacks taking place every week in Pakistan especially in the urban heartland of Punjab. Cultural centres like Lahore are becoming centre points for attack. Therefore the environment is not even conducive to having a sports event."

Gohel said more than 90 people had been killed in an attack on a local volleyball match on Jan. 1 this year in the Lakki Marwat district of the North West Frontier Province.

"This was only a local volleyball game and yet it was targeted. A high profile game of cricket with teams from England or Australia would be even more of a target," he said.

Bureau Report

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