Cricket: England tour is given the green light

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THE Foreign Office, with assurances from the authorities in India, yesterday guaranteed the safety of the England squad on their subcontinental tour in the New Year, and Graham Gooch's party will leave as scheduled on 28 December. Alan Smith, the chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, was told yesterday that the original tour itinerary could stand as arranged.

A wave of sectarian violence in the past two weeks, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 people, had placed the England tour of India and Sri Lanka in jeopardy. There were discussions of a possible alternative for the winter. But the Indian government has clamped down since the unrest was sparked by Hindu extremists destroying a Moslem mosque, and the British High Commission in Delhi has given its vote of confidence.

Smith said yesterday: 'I spoke with the Foreign Office this morning and officials there had spoken to both the British High Commission in Delhi and to the president of the Indian Cricket Board, Madhav Singh, who is also a member of their government. 'We have been given all reasonable assurances, and we have no intention of changing the itinerary in any way. We have no contingency plans to go anywhere else.'

When the violence first broke out, the TCCB monitored the situation with the Foreign Office. At the peak of the troubles, Tim Lamb, the chairman of the TCCB's cricket committee, expressed concern, saying 'the current situation is obviously far from rosy'. But subsequent developments eased the fears and scotched talk of an alternative tour.

If the tour had been cancelled, it would have been the second successive cancelled England visit to India after Gooch and several other squad members were refused visas in 1988 because of their South African connections. Gooch said yesterday: 'The authorities are clearly not going to let us go out there if things were not in order - so hopefully we will be able to concentrate on our cricket.'

There were also doubts over the Sri Lankan leg of the tour after a bomb exploded, killing four people, outside a hotel in Colombo where the New Zealand cricketers were staying. Five players returned home but the tour continued.

Yesterday's welcome green light came as Gooch's squad were finishing their pre-tour training at Lilleshall. Gooch said: 'The value of these last six weeks has also been that a great team spirit has been generated, and that the newer guys, like Paul Taylor and Richard Blakey, now feel part of the team.

'We can now go straight into our practice on the first few days of the tour with no worries about gelling the side and getting some players introduced to each other. Our aim, as usual, is to win and play as attractively as we can.'

ENGLAND IN INDIA AND SRI LANKA: 3 Jan v Ranji champions (3 days) Faridabad. 8 Jan v Indian Board President's XI (3) Kanpur. 13 Jan v Indian Board President's XI (1) Indore. 16 Jan First one-day international, Ahmedabad. 18 Jan Second one-day international, Jaipur. 21 Jan Third one-day international, Delhi or Chandigarh. 23 Jan v Indian Under- 25 (3) Cuttack. 29 Jan FIRST TEST, Calcutta. 5 Feb v Rest of India XI (3) Vishakhapatnam. 11 Feb SECOND TEST, Madras. 19 Feb THIRD TEST, Bombay. 26 Feb Fourth one-day international, Bangalore. 1 Mar Fifth one-day international, Jamshedpur. 5 Mar Sixth one-day international, Delhi. 6 Mar to Sri Lanka. 10 Mar First one-day international, Colombo (day/night). 13 Mar TEST, Colombo. 20 Mar Second one-day international, Moratuwa.

South Africa beat India by 39 runs in their one-day match in Durban yesterday. The home team scored 216 for 8 in 50 overs and then bowled India out for 177. Jimmy Cook's Test career appears to be over after just two matches. The 39-year-old opener was dropped from the squad for the third and fourth Tests against India at Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.