Australians, New Zealanders recall fears visiting Pakistan

September 22nd, 2008 - 4:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Sep 22 (IANS) Pakistani cricket authorities see the Islamabad blasts over the weekend as a human tragedy, while the Australians and New Zealanders recall their security concerns in going to the strife-torn Pakistan. The prospect of going to Pakistan for the Champions Trophy upset players in Australia and New Zealand last month after an earlier bomb attack outside Islamabad.

If the Champions Trophy had been played as scheduled originally, the England and South African teams may have been staying at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad when it was destroyed by a suicide bomb Saturday night that killed 46 people.

Rawalpindi was dropped as a venue, but that did not satisfy some of the participating nations who threatened to pull out of the Champions Trophy over security concerns. Eventually, the International Cricket Council (ICC), instead of moving it another country, put off the eight-team tournament by a year.

Originally, England and South Africa were drawn to play in Rawalpindi Sunday, while Australia would have been playing the West Indies in Karachi.

Teams playing in Rawalpindi stay in its twin city Islamabad, the nation’s capital, where the Marriott has traditionally been the hotel used by touring teams, reports the Australian.

Cricket security expert Reg Dickason confirmed Sunday that the Pakistan Cricket Board wanted the Australian team to stay there during its Test and one-day tour scheduled for last March and April. The tour was abandoned over safety and security concerns.

Dickason claims he advised against staying at the Marriott as the hotel, particularly its restaurant, was too close to the road. He wrote a strong report warning against playing the Champions Trophy in Pakistan.

While Rawalpindi was removed as a Champions Trophy venue, leaving only Lahore and Karachi, Dickason believes the September 12-28 tournament would probably have been abandoned after the bombing had it gone ahead.

Dickason, who has worked with the Australia team for a decade and also the England and New Zealand teams, was strongly criticised for his unequivocal report. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was particularly vitriolic, while the ICC relied on less definitive reports which claimed the risk was “manageable”.

Dickason wrote the strongest of the four reports commissioned on the Champions Trophy, which was used by Cricket Australia (CA), New Zealand Cricket and the England Cricket Board to ultimately the oppose Pakistan as a venue.

However, South Africa, on government security advice, was the first team to officially pull out of the tournament. This was telling given that South Africa’s murder rate per capita, one in little more than 2000, is second worst in the world behind only Colombia.

CA, which has been strongly criticised by Pakistan for backing out of touring the country, expressed its sadness following the attack.

“Our reaction is that it’s terribly sad and tragic news,” CA public affairs manager Peter Young said.

“Australian cricket has got a lot of friends in Pakistan and I think everyone at the national level is really sorry to hear this sort of continuing news coming out of the place.

“We enjoy playing against them and we have tours coming up there next year of course. Everyone is praying quite fervently that the domestic situation there settles down so people can live their life in peace and hopefully we can start playing cricket there again,” he said.

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