Long before the coronavirus, the world was a scary place. And the years between 2007 and 2020 were particularly horrifying. War, genocide, the refugee crisis.
Cricket, a global game, was not unaffected.
In 2009 in Lahore the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked by gunmen and Pakistan didn’t play a home test match for 10 years. In Christchurch the Bangladesh team was minutes away from attending prayer services at the Mosque where a single gunman killed 51.
And in war torn Afghanistan, their cricket team — one of the game’s best stories about these 13 years in question — barely even stepped foot on home soil, much less played cricket there.
There was the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka just last year. The Turi Market bombings in 2017. Those horrors and so many more made the game pause, reflect, and then move on, toward healing.
Sri Lanka, the team that was attacked, was the first team to play a test in Pakistan after 10 years.
Three years after the Mumbai attacks, India lifted the World Cup trophy just up the street from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
And, as already mentioned, Afghanistan has entertained us all, winning matches, going to World Cups, and obtaining Test status, playing joyful cricket that belies the tragedy in their country.
Cricket, the global game, couldn’t escape the terrors the world has to offer, as hard as it tried. The international game has no choice but to bend in the wind of politics and war. And that’s what it did for those 13 years of bombs and bullets. It bent, but never broke. It paused, sent players home, but also called them back. The attacks on team buses and on players attending Friday afternoon prayers reminded us that the game is, really, rather trivial in the light of everything wrong in the world. The terror gave us perspective. But, also, the game healed us, taught us resilience, that life goes on, even in the face of unbearable sadness.
I have been trying to write this post for several days. I have started and stalled it several times over. Something was missing from it each time and I would give up. I guess, mostly, I wanted to point out that during the 13 years I have followed the game, the world has seen tragedies and the game has been forced to react to those tragedies. But the world has always been a scary place, and cricket has always been there, at least for the last 150 years or so. These last 13 years were no different, on a scale of global horrors, than any other 13 year period in cricket’s existence. The game changed a great deal in that time, thrived even, despite the terror, but it has always done that. Always came storming back when the world needed it most. After World War 1. And World War 2. After terror attacks and apartheid and famine and dictators. The cricket always came back.
The world has always been a scary place. And it will always be a scary place. Virus or no virus. Sports exists, for the most part, outside of that. Except, when they don’t. When team busses are attacked and teams aren’t allowed to play at home. But they still play. And the crowds still come out. And we all get to cheer the cricket on, a bit of normalcy in the face of so much sadness and pain.
Cricket has always been there, and it will continue to be there. Pandemics, wars, terror attacks. Looking at the past 13 years of war and tragedy has only served to remind that the game is as resilient as the humans who play and watch it, and therefore will come back. When it’s time to heal, when it’s time to go back outside, cricket will be there. The bombs will fall silent, and the cricket will be there, just like it always has been.
When the shots rang out in Lahore on March 3, 2009, it probably felt like the whole world was ending.
It wasn’t. Later that year, Sri Lanka played and drew Pakistan at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in a Test match, Only a few short months after bullets rained down on their bus.
And, ten years later, Cricket came back to Pakistan.
And it will come back to all of us soon enough.