How cricket has suffered in the aftermath of the tragic happenings of 9/11

Cricket’s 9/11… The Sri Lankan cricket team were attacked by terrorists in Lahore on March 2009 as it travelled in a coach through the heart of Lahore. Five Pakistani policemen were dead and several team members injured as a result. Pakistan was immediately stripped of its staging rights for the 2011 World Cup. In the picture above, the Sri Lankan team board a rescue helicopter at the Gadaffi Stadium  © Getty Images

When the two planes plunged into New York’s iconic twin towers, ripples were felt in far corners of the cricket world. Arunabha Sengupta traces how cricket – especially in Pakistan – has been affected by 9/11.

September 11, 2001

It was a quiet day in the cricket world when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Centre.

The ripples of destruction were felt in jolts and crashes around the world, in the physical, mental and financial dimensions. The aftermath is well known — perhaps in multiple versions.

In the sporting world, Major League Baseball, National Football League, World Golf Championships and almost all other major American endeavours were disrupted or cancelled.

Halfway across the world, cricket bore the aftershocks, as Pakistan was sent orbiting into semi-wilderness. On the frontline of the US-led war on the Taliban and Al-Qaeeda, two home series, against Australia and the West Indies, were relocated.

In 2002, Pakistan played West Indies in Sharjah. In the next season Australia played three Tests against them – one in Colombo and two again in Sharjah.

The country has struggled with hosting matches due to security issues ever since, sides perennially more concerned about safety than cricket when visiting the land.

As the last straw, in 2009, the Sri Lankan team were attacked in Lahore, in an incident which left eight people dead. Pakistan was immediately stripped of its staging rights for the 2011 World Cup. In some quarters this act of terrorism is known as “cricket’s 9/11”, although it took place on March 3.

Since then, the Pakistan national team have had a ridiculous nomadic itinerary, hosting ‘home’ matches in England, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

Sad indeed for a country where the hearts pulsate with every event of the cricket world, a nation that has produced some of the best cricketers the world has seen.

The only country that has toured Pakistan since 2009 has been, surprisingly, Afghanistan. The rise of this war ravaged nation as a cricketing power has impressed many, including US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. According to her, “If we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team”

Afghanistan narrowly missed qualification for the 2011 World Cup.

Very few people in the country understand the game, but they pray devoutly when the team takes field.  Even new-born babies are named after cricketers.

However, 9/11 came back to haunt the two cricketing nations in May, 2011. With the Afghan cricket team touring Pakistan, the authorities had to cancel a match scheduled to be played at Abbottabad, the town where the US forces shot dead Osama bin Laden on the second of that month.

In the United States, cricket remains largely unknown – a mysterious game in which nothing seems to take place. However, it did play a small but significant part in the rebuilding the spirit and relationships of New York City.  A small league was formed and in it the disaffected Asian youth played with the policemen of NYPD.

“It gives us Muslim kids a change to feel welcome with the police officers and not feel like they are going to come and try do something to us because they think we have a bomb or something, you know what I mean,” revealed one young cricketer.

Some of the spirit of cricket in New York post 9/11 is captured in Joseph O’Neill’s PEN/Faulkner award winning novel Netherland. It concerns the life of a Dutchman living in New York in the wake of the September 11 attacks, who stumbles on to the curious cricket playing subculture of the city.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)