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Why Obama needs to learn the rules of cricket

Analysis: Targeting cricket is a short cut to raising the political temperature in South Asia.

Activists of India's ruling Congress party wear black bands around their faces during a silent protest against the attack on Sri Lankan cricket players, outside the Eden Garden stadium in Kolkata March 3, 2009. Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort on Tuesday to a stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore, officials said. (Jayanta Shaw/Reuters)

ISLAMABAD — One afternoon in late January, in a house on the postcard-perfect southern coast of Sri Lanka, I joined a family watching their beloved national cricket team play a game against the Pakistani side.

Beach bums taking breaks from riding the Indian Ocean waves dropped in to the open veranda of the house every few minutes to check on the score, and also to taunt me — the only Pakistan fan present — for what was an appalling performance on the field by my team on its home turf.

The game ended in an embarrassing loss for Pakistan. But it was difficult to resent the talented Sri Lankans, even if they had just handed the Pakistani team one of the worst defeats in the history of the game.

The truth is, Pakistan cricket fans couldn’t help but be grateful to the Sri Lankans. By agreeing to come to Pakistan, they had made a statement in support of Pakistani cricket at a time when no other team would tour the country.

Both the Australian and Indian sides had pulled out of scheduled tours (in fact, Australia has not played there since 1998), insisting that Pakistan was not safe for their cricketers, leaving the country at risk of becoming a pariah in a sport that it had once reigned over as world champions.

But little Sri Lanka — which first entered the international cricket scene in 1975, long after its much bigger rivals, and quickly built itself into a powerhouse, defeating Australia in the 1996 cricket World Cup — was willing.

On Tuesday, I woke up in Islamabad to the news that the Sri Lankan team had been attacked by gunmen on its way to their last game in Pakistan. The attack took place in Liberty Chowk, one of the busiest traffic circles in Lahore, a budding metropolis of 10 million people. But when the bus carrying all the Sri Lankan cricket players was riddled with bullets that bright sunny morning, Liberty Chowk also became the deadly intersection of South Asian sports, politics and

A political conversation on cricket and terrorism is now being heard in South Asia, the region that the last Democratic president in the White House called the "most dangerous place on earth." The United States will have to listen in closely and quickly to learn the rules of
the game as it’s played in South Asia, if it has a chance of dealing with a region so central to its own safety.