Angus Fraser: Pietersen's side must go back to help heal India's wounds
Friday 05 December 2008
If the safety and security advice presented to the England team in Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening is positive and no different from that given before the initial trip to India a month ago, then Kevin Pietersen and his squad should travel to Chennai and play the first Test.
Being an international cricketer carries far greater responsibility than winning matches, scoring hundreds and taking crucial wickets. Whether a player likes it or not he is a symbol of what the country represents. There may be times when he has to perform a duty that others would be reluctant to complete, but that comes with the territory. For his commitment he is likely to receive fame, fortune and fulfilment. It is a fair swap.
This duty, of course, does not involve Pietersen's side ignoring the security advice they are given and recklessly returning to India. Sport plays a huge role in many people's lives but it is not that important. But are England's cricketers really in any greater danger now than when they were in India a week ago? If the England team's journey continues to India I will be there.
When it was announced that England would return home after last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai most journalists completed their work at the team hotel in Bhubaneswar. Derek Pringle, The Independent's former cricket correspondent, and I were the last to leave, exiting the heavily guarded hotel entrance at about 1am. There were no taxis to take us to our hotel so we decided to complete the 15-minute journey on foot. The only threat we felt came from the dozens of barking and fighting dogs that lined our route back. Rabies rather than kidnapping was the word on our lips.
There are many who believe that England should not be returning; that it is too soon. It is a relevant point. But when should they and normality return? Surely it is up to the people of India to decide when the time is right to play cricket, not us. And is India going to be any safer in January, April or in a year's time? Probably not.
If there is one thing in India that can help heal the horrific damage that has taken place it is cricket, and it was heartening to hear Pietersen say that he and his team wanted to support the people of India in their hour of need. India cannot and should not forget what took place last week but it needs cricket to help it recover. If normality is to return conversation has to go back to Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They need to discuss whether Yuvraj Singh can take his one-day form into the Test series.
People will also question whether three days in Abu Dhabi can prepare England for a tough Test series. It is hard to believe India's players have been practising much in the last week, but to a large extent the results of the Tests are irrelevant.
Every now and then something takes place that is more important than the match itself. It was the case in Galle, Sri Lanka, this time last year. The Test against England was the first at the venue since the tsunami. The ground was not fit for Test cricket and England knew it. But, quite rightly, they did not kick up a fuss. They knew that on this occasion the statement the game made was far more important than the cricket played.
It is the same here because there is far more at stake for India than a two-Test series. If England refuse to travel what message does that send to holidaymakers or to businessmen contemplating investing money in this vibrant, ambitious country? If everyone stops going to India, the huge progress that has been made and the investment in its infrastructure could halt.
There has been a fair amount of tosh said and written about what appeared on Indian television after the terrorist attacks. Yes, the coverage was frantic and at times completely over the top and, yes, the footage was a little more graphic than that we would expect to see here. But it was not as some have suggested, like the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
I, like the England players, have stayed in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and, on my previous visit to Mumbai, I stayed at the Oberoi too. It was disconcerting to see places like these under siege but it was not traumatic.
How the England team respond in the next couple of days could have huge implications further down the line. If the team are given the green light to fly to Chennai but some players withdraw, it will divide the team and possibly cause irreparable damage. Make no mistake, there will be resentment and hostility shown by team members to those "fair-weather" tourists who choose not to travel. Respect for them will fall and their words about "togetherness" at future team meetings will seem hollow. With the Ashes fast approaching, these are issues that England and Pietersen do not need.
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