England's cricketers are set to receive protection from India's elite commando force should Kevin Pietersen's side return to complete its two-Test tour of the country. It is believed the troops, the same as those who stormed the Taj Mahal Hotel to end last week's terrorist siege in Mumbai, will give England's travelling party 24-hour security during the proposed two and a half week visit.
Reports in India's Hindustan Times state that the England and Wales Cricket Board have asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India for the commandos to accompany the team at all times, provide blanket security cover around the England dressing-rooms in Chennai and Mohali, and deliver an emergency evacuation plan should there be a terrorist attack.
The ECB are awaiting reports from their security advisor Reg Dickason before officially confirming whether or not the tour will go ahead. Dickason is in India collecting security information on the two cities hosting Tests.
If the series takes place, which is becoming increasingly likely – the unofficial word is England will travel tomorrow – Pietersen's side appears set to stop over in Abu Dhabi for a couple of days of preparation. Last night reports from the emirate suggested England will play a warm-up game at the at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Club. It is believed that several of the Performance Squad bowlers who were in India at the same time as the one-day side will accompany the Test squad. But are they there to give England's batsmen decent practice before the first Test, or as possible replacements for Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison? If Flintoff and Harmison decide not to tour the selectors will pick replacements from the Performance Squad or Middlesex, whose bowlers will have kept fit for the postponed Champions League.
Comments from Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, suggest England will return. Clarke last night insisted that both he and the ECB will not allow terrorism to influence where and when England play. "Under no circumstances will we allow our cricket to be dictated by terrorists," said Clarke. "The security advice we are receiving has not changed and we are getting a lot of help and cooperation from everyone in India. The BCCI is doing all it can to facilitate the tour but we must do what we have to do properly and thoroughly. It is what every England player wants and deserves.
"India is an enormous country and there are large parts of it that have never seen terrorist activity. In 2005 the Aussies were sensible and we are doing the same here. I am not aware of any player making himself unavailable yet but that is not my remit. Cricket is Hugh Morris's responsibility."