England are already at the point of no return
Saturday 29 November 2008
Ensuring the safe and uneventful return of England's cricketers from India may have been a traumatic experience for the top brass at the England and Wales Cricket Board, but it is unlikely to be as stressful as persuading Kevin Pietersen's team to return to complete their scheduled two Test series. England's cricketers arrive back in London today after fleeing India in the wake of Wednesday's terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
The graphic television images of gunfire, exploding grenades and dead bodies being carried out of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the principal target of the terrorists, have scarred Pietersen and his side. The hotel was the place where the team stayed during the early part of their tour and their Test kit is still sitting among the carnage in one of the many storage rooms.
No player is yet to publicly come out and say that he will not return to India but they are not very good liars and their reluctance is clear to see. "I will not come back to this country unless it is safe," said Pietersen before England's lunchtime flight to Bangalore, from where they were to fly to London. "And I am not going to force any adult who has got a wife and kids to do anything they do not want to do.
"Before the Stanford game people were saying that I should make them give money to charity, but these are grown men, some of who are older than me. On a cricket field I might ask people to do things in a certain way but I will never tell people to do anything. A man is a man and he can make his own decisions."
Pietersen has had a testing time as captain since the end of season triumphs against South Africa, and he sits in an awkward but hugely responsible position. His rank means that he has one foot in the England dressing room and another in the ECB boardroom. He has to weigh up all considerations because his views can have a huge influence.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India yesterday confirmed that the second Test will now take place in Chennai, not Mumbai as originally planned. The venue for the first Test – currently Ahmedabad – is being assessed, too, and the BCCI expect the England team to return in time to play a warm-up match in Vadodara on 5 December. The BCCI's schedule gives England's players only four or five days at home.
"Thursday was an incredible day," Pietersen added. "You go to bed hearing about what is happening in Mumbai and you wake up and watch what is going on. The television coverage here is pretty graphic; at home it has not been quite so bad. Here you see pools of blood. You see everything that goes on. Then this morning you wake up, turn the television on and you see troops jumping out of helicopters and on to buildings.
"This is where we were two weeks ago. It has really shocked the guys. These events put cricket in to perspective. You are not thinking about how people bowl and whether they keep hitting the ball to extra cover when people are being killed in a city that is two hours away.
"The reality of it all hits you and we had a real tough day on Thursday. We had a couple of team meetings, not four or five as some people have said, and it was a collective decision that the best thing to do right now was to take us out of the situation, back to London where our families, friends and relatives are so that they know we are safe.
"Some of the guys have used up two batteries on their mobile phones through friends and relatives phoning them up. Families with children saying, 'Daddy where are you, what's the story?' Decisions will then be made in the next couple of days as to the future of this tour."
The ECB's task would be made easier if security reports state that India has become a more dangerous place to visit. Everybody accepts that Mumbai is a no-go area at the moment but travel advice for other parts of the country has not changed.
Should this remain the case, England would be duty-bound to travel at the end of the week. Were they still not to travel the ECB would face a $1m (£652,000) fine from the International Cricket Council and legal action from the BCCI. Such an outcome would take the ECB's already fractious relationship with the BCCI to a new low.
"Our decision will be guided by security, the ECB and Reg Dickason, our security advisor," said Pietersen.
"It is no time to play cricket right now," he added, "and that is why the next two one-dayers have been postponed [meaning they will be replayed in a future tour]. Who is to say that we cannot play cricket in two weeks' time, but we will just have to wait and see."
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