If England reckoned they had security difficulties at the Taj Mahal yesterday they should have spared a thought for two of their illustrious Indian opponents. As the tourists were visiting the world's most famous monument to love, and were being mobbed like superstars – which, on the subcontinent, they are – Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were threatened with kidnapping.
It was all another reminder of the place cricket holds here. Those who declared their intentions towards Tendulkar, the most venerated man in the country bar the odd Bollywood star, and Ganguly, less glamourous but India's captain, were believed to be followers of the wanted desperado, Aftab Ansari.
Their plan, thwarted by police here in the Indian capital, was to demand a ransom for Tendulkar and trade Ganguly for a jailed terrorist, Mohammad Amir Khan.
Ansari is based in Dubai but has links with several known Pakistani terrorists. New Delhi police discovered plans not only to abduct the two high-profile cricketers but to assassinate the government's former scientific adviser, A P J Abdul Kalam who devised the country's missile development programme.
Security was intensified around Ganguly's house in Calcutta last week. Tendulkar, who can barely leave his house without being besieged, lives in a permanent state of high security.
It is impossible to imagine this happening in England. Kidnapping of cricketers is probably not the most obvious way of getting rich quick even if the ransom was paid.
For an hour or so yesterday, however, almost all England's squad knew what it was like to be famous. After training at Ferozeshah Cotla, where the fifth one-day international was scheduled to start at 3.30am GMT today, most of the squad flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It was a privately organised visit but the players were immediately surrounded on arrival. Their progress towards the great mausoleum was constantly impeded by reporters as well as hundreds of fans. For a minute or two it looked as if security had broken down and tempers might fray.
"It was chaos,'' said the all-rounder Jeremy Snape. "I'd like to come back, take a proper look but I'm still really glad that we could fit this in.''
It was a long but rewarding day for the players on the eve of a match which will decide whether they stay in the series. It said something to those critics who carp about cricketers abroad failing to see historic sights, but they could not go through that particular mill every day.
Andrew Caddick has revealed the torment he has suffered after failing to secure a place in England's first four matches because of Matthew Hoggard's progress this winter. "I'm not physically tired, but mentally it takes its toll on you," said the fast bowler, who prior to this winter had missed just two of England's last 26 one-day internationals.
"It's frustrating not to be playing. It does draw on you a lot and you do tend to start thinking about things in your hotel room."
Craig White, who has now joined the squad after his knee operation, does not expect to be considered for selection until the New Zealand leg of the trip. "I've recovered more quickly than I thought and this gives me a chance to get ready to play earlier as well,'' he said.
White said he has fully recovered from the back problems that bothered him last summer and expects to be bowling at full speed again soon. Before Christmas the Yorkshire all-rounder told the team management that he was no longer capable of delivering the ball at high speed. This led to the call up of Andrew Flintoff and the subsequent resurrection – somewhat earlier than expected – of his international career. But White said yesterday: "It might take a few weeks but I do think I can bowl at that sustained pace again. I always have, and with a few matches and increased fitness I hope it can happen again.''
With White and Flintoff at their disposal England could have two premier all-rounders. In theory that is an alluring idea: in practice one may be adequate for the team's needs. It will be fascinating to see how the younger Flintoff reacts to the admirable White's presence over the coming weeks.Reuse content