Andreas Whittam Smith: The moral case for England's cricketers to tour India

'Not to go would be interpreted throughout the sub-continent as British cowardice'

I hope the five English cricketers who may decline to travel with their team to India because of the war in Afghanistan are considering the full consequences of refusal. I start with our country's good name. Not to go, with the result that a sort of B-side is sent on tour, will lower the reputation of Britain in the eyes of Indian people. For one aspect of the decision would be frankly insulting. It would be saying that we cannot trust Indians to fulfil the normal obligations of hosts to look after the safety and comfort of visiting sportsmen. This comes close to asserting that India is, after all is said and done, uncivilised.

Not to go would also be interpreted throughout the sub-continent as British cowardice. And this poor example would have been given at the very moment when British troops are being sent into Afghanistan on dangerous missions. Is what happens on a far away cricket field in India too remote to be comprehended by Taliban fighters getting ready to repulse Western forces? I don't think so. The whole region understands cricket. Primitive pitches are even constructed in the dust of the refugee camps. British bottling out would be known. It would help our enemies and discomfort our friends.

Not to go weakens resolve at home. It adds to people's fears. If our best sportsmen, young, extremely fit, strong and resourceful as they are, are too frightened to do their normal jobs, what are the rest of us to think as we go about our daily tasks, some of which have also become potentially dangerous. We have only to glance across the Atlantic to see how hundreds of thousands of public service employees are having to summon up their courage. Can there be any workers in Britain's postal services, or in the London underground or handling commercial flights, to take just three examples, who are not a bit apprehensive at the moment?

We are advised to conduct our lives as normally as possible. Being normal for some people is taking an interest in cricket. When the summer season is over, you expect to follow the fortunes of our players on tour. To do so is one of the myriad aspects of normal times. England's cricketers, by their decision whether to tour India as a full team or not, will add to or subtract from our sense of normality.

Not to go would be a disservice to the thousands of children who admire test cricketers, imitate them and rank them with the gods. At an impressionable age, these young people would have been given an example of a negative kind. It would tell them that they should never be asked to do something hard, that they should never be required to undertake anything about which they feel the least qualms and that in such circumstances they can refuse. If they just don't feel like participating, that's good enough. Thus for England's cricketers not to go to India would send a baleful message to a society which is becoming steadily less prepared to take risks and which often demands compensation when something untoward occurs. It would be part of whinging Britain.

Not to go would be bad for English cricket itself, the source of the players' livelihood. It would be the classic "sawing off the branch you are sitting on". For the success of the national team partly depends, as in all sports, on its cohesion. In English football, for instance, an enhanced sense of team work has played a part in the striking improvement in the fortunes of the national side. Indeed, the English cricket captain has laid particular stress on creating a spirit of one-for-all, all-for-one. Not to go works in the opposite direction – all for me, nothing for them.

Instead, let the doubting five English cricketers consider the example of one of their fellow citizens, Claire Fletcher, who works for Dan Rather, the CBS Evening News anchor, in New York. Claire contracted skin anthrax. Nonetheless, she continued to work as normal. She "refused to break" her routine. She says that she was on antibiotics, that there was no reason to hide or call in sick. She says she wanted to handle the situation in a low-key way "so as to reassure people that there was no sense in panicking".

How, then, was she able to carry on so magnificently? Why, the very resource which the five cricketers describe as a reason for not travelling – the attitude of her family and friends. They surrounded her with "love and courage. It was that strength that I was able to draw on which helped me through the tough days."

Claire Fletcher wrote in a Sunday newspaper yesterday that she wanted people to know that even despite the fact that, unfortunately, some people have died from anthrax, "being jittery, losing your wits and becoming hysterical are not solutions". Wise words. And the fee for her article, by the way, is being donated to the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's' Benefit Fund.

The five cricketers, obviously, require a role model. There it is.

aws@globalnet.co.uk

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