England head home in wake of Mumbai attacks

Pietersen's side to fly back but Test series against India still scheduled to go ahead
Click to follow
The Independent Online

England's cricketers were given half of what they desired last night in India when their employers, the England and Wales Cricket Board, allowed Kevin Pietersen's side to return home in the wake of Wednesday's appalling terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But the move may be only temporary as next month's two-Test series against India is yet to be called off, a scenario that could result in England returning to the region in a few days' time.

The prospect of revisiting India so soon after the atrocities will not appeal to Pietersen and his "disturbed" side, who are desperate to get out of the country. But, as of yet, the safety and security fears of the squad and its management do not appear to have been backed up by their security advisers or the Foreign Office. Such information would provide the team with force majeure, a measure that would give them a right to abandon the tour.

Tourists are being advised not to visit Mumbai, India's financial capital, but the travel advice for the remainder of India has not altered since Wednesday's events. England's squad is taking advantage of the Board of Control for Cricket in India's decision to accept the ECB's request for the sixth and seventh one-dayers against India to be postponed. The cancellation has given the players a week off, time they would rather spend at home.

Pietersen's side will be privately hoping that the travel advice for the remainder of India changes for the worse in the next few days. It would provide the ECB with the data it requires to abandon the tour. But should it not alter they will have to return to avoid being hit with a sizeable fine by the International Cricket Council. A failure to honour legal obligations would also lead to a complete breakdown of the relationship between the ECB and BCCI.

"After a series of meetings we have decided to return to London," said a weary-looking Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket. "Obviously it is a fast-moving situation here and I will stress that the Test series is still in place. We have decided to return so that the players and the management can get back to a home environment. I think it will be a good thing.

"What happened in Mumbai is an awful tragedy and the players have felt close to it. They were in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, in the rooms and the restaurants only a couple of weeks ago. And they were due to be there again in a fortnight. A return home would serve their purpose well.

"We will assess when we need to return and will monitor the situation. It is a fairly fluid situation and ideally we would like some practice before the first Test in Ahmedabad on 11 December. We are discussing where the second Test will be held with the BCCI [which was due to be in Mumbai]."

There is a view that the team will be reluctant to return to India but Morris insisted that the plan was to come back. "I believe the players will have the desire to come back," he said. "It is a Test series the players have vaunted for a long period of time. I believe they will come here full of enthusiasm and wanting to do well. If a player said he didn't want to come back I would talk to him and we would take the appropriate action."

The BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi insisted the decision for England to go home had been reached jointly. "There's no difference of opinion at all," he said. "Hugh is right, the home environment will calm the players down. We are very happy the players are going home and will be back.

"We will not bow to terrorism. The second Test will be moved from Mumbai because it is understandable in view of the horrific events that have taken place. But we all recognise that it is also important to carry on."

England's tour is not the only contest to be affected. The inaugural Champions League Twenty20 event containing domestic teams from India, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa and England has been postponed until next year. Middlesex were the ECB's representatives and several of the games were scheduled for Mumbai.

"We postponed the Champions League because of the logistics of finding another venue at such short notice," Modi added. "I couldn't do it but all the teams were still prepared to come and we will organise it as soon as possible in January. I have to find another venue for the second Test and the probability is that that will be in Chennai."

The England team will travel to London via Bangalore and they will not be wearing their official travelling regalia of jacket and tie. Those items are in storage at the Taj Mahal Palace, the hotel at the centre of the terrorist attacks.

Men in the middle: Key figures in the drama

Lalit Modi – BCCI Vice-President

After his role in ousting the former chairman of the BCCI, India Today labelled Modi the man "no one in cricket wants to be the wrong side of". With cricketing monies at stake, Modi will be heavily involved in making sure as little cricket as possible is lost.

Shri N Srinivasan – BCCI secretary

As former BCCI treasurer, Srinivasan was responsible for trebling the BCCI's revenue and was elected to the influential role of secretary in September 2008. An ally of Modi, he spent most of yesterday locked in delicate negotiations with England's Hugh Morris.

Hugh Morris – ECB Managing Director

The former batsman and MBA graduate was appointed managing director following the 2007 Schofield Report. Morris briefed the England squad following yesterday's lengthy discussions and his opinion is well respected and trusted by the players.

'Something told me not to go': Kabir Ali's escape

Kabir Ali will for ever be grateful for a last-minute change of plan after he came uncomfortably close to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Kabir, the Worcestershire and England fast bowler, had been in the Taj Mahal Palace on Wednesday afternoon and was due to have dinner in the hotel that night.

However, he decided to go to the cinema and was running late for dinner, just escaping the violence. "I should have been at the hotel by 9pm; about half an hour before the shooting started," Kabir said from Mumbai last night.

"I don't know why I changed my mind. For some reason something told me not to go and I went to the cinema instead. I started watching the film, but it soon became obvious something was wrong. Some people ran out of the cinema.

"Then I received a text telling me what was happening and I got out. There was panic outside. There were sirens and bangs and people running. It was chaos.

"I just want to get home now. I can't believe that a place I know so well has been attacked like this. My thoughts are with all the people who were just going about their lives normally and haven't been as lucky as me."

George Dobell