The buildup to an eagerly awaited Coca-Cola Cricket World Cup continues against a background of turbulence and violence in the three host countries - India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Many sports pundits had foreseen such a predicament for the organizers and some cautiously warned against the holding of the tournament in the three countries until better security conditions prevailed. Those subscribing to this option dared not raise their voices for fear of retribution from the hordes of cricket lovers in the subcontinent. Trouble started much earlier when India's official TV, Doordarshan, was involved in a mud-slinging match with foreign TV satellite channels over broadcasting rights. The Indian executive and judicial arms were involved in helping to reach a compromise.
Hardly had this brouhaha been settled when vitriolic exchanges were made by Pakistan and India over the question of issuance of visas for the semifinals and finals. The World Cup travail went on as both sides accused each other of "unsportsman behavior." In India, the leader of the extremist Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray promised to burn the cricket stadium if Pakistan was allowed to play. His threats were not directed at matches in Bombay only but also across India. His exhortations to "hit" Pakistanis fell on deaf ears atleast outside his own home state of Maharashtra. Not to be outdone, Altaf Hussain, the leader of the shadowy MQM party in Karachi said he could not promise the safety of the teams playing in Karachi. The self-appointed "guardian of Mohajir interests" made repeated noises about the World Cup.
Pakistani players practicing for the World Cup were manhandled. It seems the Mohajirs are unable to put aside their differences with the government - even for the sake of cricket.
In Sri Lanka, the recent bomb blast by the terrorist Tamil groups which claimed the lives of many innocent people almost snuffed out hopes of having a relatively trouble-free World Cup.
A pall of gloom has descended over the subcontinent, said a commentator after hearing of the terrible blast which had an effect as far as the Caribbean and Australia. Both the West Indies and Australia objected to playing in the bomb and bullet-riddled island. The organizers were throwing their hands up in frustration. Politicians stepped in. Sri Lanka threatened to review its relations with those who refused to play despite Colombo's promise of providing state security to the Australians and others. Bitter words were being exchanged and we feared that this time there will be a "cricket war" similar to the "football war" in 1971 between San Salvador and Honduras.
In order to save the tournament, the organizing authority has gone to the extent of asking for the united Nations' intervention! Boutros Ghali who is just licking his wounds after various "defeats" on the political front would opt well to stay out of this cricketing fracas where he will not have a sporting chance!
The arrival of Pakistani cricketers on Indian soil and the warm welcome they received on the official and public level is an indication of criket's healing abilities.
Despite troubles all around, the organizers went ahead with the opening games and Coca Cola presented their sponsored cricket bat to Indian Captain Azharuddin and his deputy, Tendulkar.
The British are however maintaining their stiff upper lip. Their tabloids have taken the Australians to task and described them as "cowards". Australian reaction to these remarks need no elaboration.
It is unfortunate that this great sporting extravaganza for which millions of people are eagerly awaiting is being threatened by terrorists like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elem (LTTE), rabidly extremist leaders like Bal Thackeray and a shadowy and sinister figure like Altaf Hussain. All these three have different agendas. What they don't realize is they are depriving these three countries of the chance of getting together. As Len Hutton would have said, "That's not cricket."