NEW DELHI: The attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Pakistan on Tuesday has rocked the South Asian heartland of the international game and raised stark security concerns over the 2011 World Cup.
That showpiece event is due to be jointly hosted by India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the four cricket-obsessed Test nations that make up the sport's financial nerve centre.
But Tuesday's attack is likely to eliminate Pakistan as an international cricket venue for the foreseeable future, and the other three nations would be hard pushed to make a convincing case that they can offer sufficient security guarantees.
India, which generates an estimated 70 percent of cricket's worldwide revenues, had its security credentials shredded by the Mumbai attacks last November which coincided with a tour by the England team.
One of the main targets of the attacks, when gunmen killed 165 people, was the Taj Mahal Hotel, where the England players had stayed on arrival.
Sri Lanka is struggling to finish off a long-running conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels while Bangladesh is recovering from a mutiny in the armed forces that turned part of the capital Dhaka into a battleground last week.
Seven Sri Lankan cricketers were injured when gunmen opened fire on their bus as it headed to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore for the third day's play in the second Test against Pakistan.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) condemned Tuesday's attack, which killed six policemen and two civilians.
ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said the deaths were "a source of great sadness" and that it was "very upsetting for the wider cricket family" that some of the Sri Lanka players and a match official were injured.
Even before Tuesday's attacks, the ICC and administrators in the four host countries were banking on the fact the World Cup was still two years away.
At a meeting of the World Cup organising committee in New Delhi last month, Lorgat used the time factor to play down security concerns.
"I am aware of the current situation, but the World Cup is still a long way away," Lorgat had said. "It is too early to be concerned but we are monitoring the situation on a regular basis."
However, Lorgat urged World Cup organisers to keep alternate venues in mind as a security precaution. "This has to be done if something is not favourable in any of the host countries," he said.
Of the 15 World Cup venues that had been identified, eight are in India, four in Pakistan, two in Sri Lanka and one in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is to host the opening ceremony on February 19, 2011 while the final will be played in India and the two semi-finals shared by Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Australia and New Zealand, which the ICC has marked as alternative hosts, are already standing by if South Asia is unable to organise the tournament.
The attacks came even after the Pakistan government provided what it said was "fool-proof" and "presidential-style" security to the visiting cricketers.
Sri Lanka had agreed to the tour after India pulled out of a scheduled Test visit to Pakistan earlier this year following worsening relations between the two nations over the Mumbai attacks.
The split tour -- Sri Lanka played a one-day series in Pakistan last month without incident before returning for the Tests -- was organised even as other teams were refusing to visit the troubled nation.
World champions Australia led the boycott call, later joined by England, South Africa and New Zealand, forcing the International Cricket Council to shift the Champions Trophy out of Pakistan.
That eight-nation tournament, the second biggest after the World Cup, was due to be held in September last year, but will now take place this October at a venue yet to be decided.
Australia's uncompromising stance also forced their one-day series against Pakistan in April to be shifted to the United Arab Emirates.