England agree to tour after safety assured

Pietersen's side praised for 'brave' decision as security is tightened for Test series
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The England cricket team last night agreed to return to India for the two Test tour of the country. Kevin Pietersen's squad will be at full strength and will today arrive in Chennai, the venue for Thursday's first Test, amid unprecedented levels of security.

The England team made the decision yesterday evening in Abu Dhabi after attending a 90-minute meeting with Hugh and Sean Morris, the managing director of England cricket, and chief executive of the England players' association respectively.

They have both spent the past couple of days in India collecting information and ensuring that what has been promised by the local authorities will be put in place.

Also in attendance in Abu Dhabi yesterday was Reg Dickason, the England and Wales Cricket Board's security advisor, who has spent the past week in India collecting safety and security data for the team.

The triumvirate were happy with Chennai as a venue but there is still doubt about whether the second Test will take place in Mohali. The terrorist attacks on Mumbai have increased tension between India and Pakistan, where the terrorists are though to have come from, and Mohali is in the north-west of India, close to the Pakistan border.

Dickason and the two Morris's presented the information they had gathered to players and management before allowing them to go away and decide what they wanted to do.

The ECB top brass had already made it known they would not penalise any player who chose not to tour for safety reasons – such a decision would be understood and respected, but following a 20-minute adjournment the squad gathered again to decide that everyone will travel together.

"I think every now and again sportsmen and women have the opportunity to do something beyond their performances on the field, they have the chance to do something that transcends cricket, goes beyond the boundary," said Hugh Morris.

"For a tragic reason, the England cricket team have that opportunity and I think they have made a very brave decision, which will be respected across the world. I really respect them for it."

Pietersen (left) and his team returned home from India two days after the horrific attacks on its commercial capital. That the central point of the attack was the hotel the England team had previously stayed, and were due to stay again, shook them.

When the players arrived back in Britain there were many who believed the Tests would not go ahead despite the best efforts of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

But, as Pietersen's side came to terms with what had taken place, the desire to return to provide solace for the Indian people emerged. There had been suggestions Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison would refuse to return, a decision that could have led to a mass rejection. Both, understandably, had doubts but the process of returning effectively began last Wednesday when the team agreed to travel to Abu Dhabi to practice and prepare for the Test series while awaiting the reports.

"It's been a very emotional and sensitive 10 days," said Hugh Morris. "We've had a lot of chats with the players following security audits from the highest levels of government. It has been a very difficult decision for the players but they have all made one.

"We presented the information we have been gathering over the last week and the players made their decision based on that. All players wanted to have the most up-to-date information, that's why we sent our security team to Chennai.

"I would have been amazed if players hadn't asked questions. There was a presentation from the three of us; we invited questions and the players made their decision based on that information. We wanted to be honest and open with the players, which I believe we have been. Reg [Dickason] is satisfied that the recommendations in his reports are being implemented.

"I was reading the local press in Chennai today and they were very hopeful we would go back. The Indians love their cricket. It is a sport that can galvanise their country. I believe our players have made a decision that can in a way help rebuild the tragedy in Mumbai."

Sean Morris travelled to look at things from a player's perspective. The ECB have always insisted that the safety of its players is paramount, but when dealing with India there is a lot of money at stake and the ECB have not been in the BCCI's good books much recently.

"I went to be their eyes and ears," said Sean Morris. "I spent two and a half days with Reg and my role was to report back to the players that everything had been put in place to minimise the risk. Seeing it for yourself does give you confidence. I returned to Abu Dhabi feeling more comfortable.

"I think it was a massively challenging decision for the senior players who stood up and took a lot of responsibility. You must take your hats off to them. There are a lot of characters in the dressing room and, quite rightly, they challenged the reports, as you would, and Reg was able to give them the assurances they needed.

"The Indians are desperate to see the England team come. We hope the spirit of cricket can in some way help restore confidence in the country. They are a knowledgeable crowd, they know all the names and they are desperate to see them come. It was heart-warming."

Prior to last night's meeting the ECB announced that Amjad Khan, Kent's Danish-born fast bowler, would replace Ryan Sidebottom in India and that Adil Rashid, Yorkshire's exciting young leg-spinning all-rounder would travel to gain experience too.

Khan has recovered from a career- threatening knee injury, a problem that forced the 28-year-old to miss the entire 2007 season. He was one of several Performance Squad players who travelled to Abu Dhabi with the Test squad to give them decent practice.

Rashid is not the first young spinner to travel to India for experience – Ian Salisbury did the same on England's 1992-93 tour. Salisbury out-bowled John Emburey and Philip Tufnell in the lead up to the first Test and played ahead of them. Rashid will struggle to force his way ahead of Monty Panesar but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he might play.

England's schedule

*First Test, 11-15 December, Chennai

*Second Test, 19-23 December, Mohali

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