Security fears hit India's IPL
New Delhi - Indian Premier League bosses battled to save their multi-million-dollar tournament on Wednesday after a government call for it to be postponed for security reasons.
In the wake of Tuesday's deadly assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan, questions are also being asked about whether the top world players signed up by the IPL will be prepared to play in South Asia.
The Mumbai siege in late November dealt a massive blow to India's security image, and fears over safety across the region will have been exacerbated by the gun and grenade attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore.
Home minister P. Chidambaram said on Tuesday said he would be "stretched" to provide adequate security to the popular Twenty20 tournament, as it clashes with general elections in April and May.
"Since the election dates are unalterable, I have asked to find out if the dates of the IPL can be rescheduled," Chidambaram told reporters.
"I would be happy if the tournament starts when the bulk of the polls is over."
The IPL is due to be played across 10 cities in India from April 10 to May 24. The parliamentary elections will be held in five phases between April 16 and May 13.
Chidambaram's comments came hours after the attack on the Sri Lankan team which injured seven players and an assistant coach and killed eight Pakistanis -- six of them policemen escorting their convoy to the stadium.
IPL officials insisted the tournament will not be postponed, citing a lack of alternative dates in an already crowded calendar, but agreed to adjustments so matches do not clash with voting in a particular city.
"There is no chance of postponing the IPL," tournament commissioner Lalit Modi told Indian media.
"We have taken into account government sensibilities, but I am sure even the Home Minister would not want the whole country to come to a standstill during the elections."
Home ministry officials are expected to meet IPL bosses over the next few days to resolve the matter, although reports say the government is determined to see the 59-match tournament postponed.
There are also concerns on whether international players will be willing to set foot on the sub-continent following the Lahore attack.
The biggest draw this year would be the first IPL appearance for England stars Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, who were signed for a record $1.55m each per year.
The Mumbai attacks last November has already forced the postponement by a year of the IPL-backed Champions League, featuring the top Twenty20 teams from Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan and India.
"If I were one of the England guys who signed up for the Indian Premier League, I would be concerned," former England coach Duncan Fletcher wrote in the Guardian newspaper.
"The attacks in Mumbai called into question even the safety of the best hotels. What cricketer is going to start thinking about runs and wickets when there are these more serious matters to consider?"
Former England captain Mike Atherton, however, told The Times he hoped the IPL would go ahead.
"If cricket in India takes a blow, then it's almost the end of cricket as a truly international sport -- it becomes an enclave of a few countries here and there.
"It's vitally important it continues to be played on the sub-continent."
Although IPL officials insist that international players will turn up, one official from a top team conceded the tournament could not go ahead without the support of the government and its security agencies.
"No one wants to take a chance in these difficult times," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "One mad person could ruin everything."
Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who was contracted with Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan's Kolkata Knightriders, has already pulled out of this year's IPL, citing commitments for his country.