England face test of patience over India tour

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The Independent Online

The limbo that England's cricket team finds itself in over the imminent tour to India could drag on for at least another week after five of the 16-man squad requested more time to make up their minds.

By replacing one deadline with another, the England and Wales Cricket Board has given the vacillating quintet of Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Caddick, Robert Croft, Ashley Giles and Craig White until after the weekend to decide whether to join their 11 team-mates. However, if that appears generous, the reality is that the five will probably wait until the ECB's fact-finding mission to India returns, before finally ruling themselves in or out.

The trip, which will be undertaken by John Carr, the operations manager of the ECB, is likely to take place at the end of next week. If the five were to wait for the outcome of the visit, and at least one has privately said he wants to, nothing definitive would be known before Guy Fawkes night, just eight days before the team are scheduled to leave for Bombay. White said yesterday that his understanding was that he had until 7 November to decide.

Carr, who will probably be accompanied by David Graveney, wearing his Professional Cricketers' Association hat rather than his selector's cap, will meet with representatives of the Indian Government and cricketing authorities, as well as the British High Commission. If necessary, Carr has the authority to appoint a security manager to the team.

From this distance, the visit looks like a gesture of appeasement and only worth the bother if it sways more than two of the five ditherers, four of whom have young families. Carr is also in something of a no-win situation, whatever his findings on the safety front. Indeed, as Mark Butcher – one of the 11 players who have so far agreed to tour – pointed out yesterday, "If security is that much of a priority, then we probably do have something to worry about."

Speaking yesterday, Tim Lamb, the ECB's chief executive, was adamant that all decisions would have to be made by the middle of the week. "We fully understand that this is a difficult situation and that players need a little more time to consider their positions," he said. "But we do need to finalise selection of the team and all detailed arrangements of the tour."

Croft, one of those still undecided, revealed why he wanted more time. "I have a wife and two young children who are without doubt my first priority. In the current volatile world situation, I don't want to leave them to worry about my welfare." Caddick, another taking his time, even put a figure on his feelings. "I have to feel 100 per cent confident before myself and my family can make that decision." Given that Caddick wouldn't feel 100 per cent if he'd just taken 10 Aussie wickets, he is almost certain to stay at home.

While each player has a right to be as well informed as possible, dragging the process out is likely to lose them public sympathy as well as the patience of their captain, Nasser Hussain. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see them being dropped should they require yet more time to be apprised of relevant facts.

Cynics might claim the delay tactics are an attempt to salvage their tour fee, thought to be around £25,000 for the India leg, and they might have a point.

The professional cricketing mind can be medievally narrow, and although safety concerns are genuine, it could be that some are hoping events in the region escalate to the point where a decision is taken out of their hands. If the tour is called off without them having to break their contract, their tour fee is safe.

The main surprise, considering his was one of the first voices to be raised in doubt, was Graham Thorpe's decision to tour. As England's best batsman, Thorpe's presence will be a fillip for his skipper, but none of the players in the 'yes' camp will be made to travel should they feel uneasy at any stage between now and 13 November.