England in glare of security spotlight

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The Independent Online

India is never quite what it seems and last night the area around England's hotel here resembled Beirut, as explosion after explosion filled the night air. Yet the touring team's much-vaunted security blanket did not lift so much as a trigger finger, for this was not terrorists, but the usual way of celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

Diwali, if celebrated properly, which means lots of fireworks, is meant to light a path so that the gods are able to visit earth. England's cricketers, a rung below the top-notch deities, will not have their way lit for them, but, at the insistence of the England and Wales Cricket Board, they will be accompanied by plain-clothes security officers whenever they leave their hotel. As this includes meals in restaurants, room service suddenly looks an enticing option.

Whether this task falls within the remit of the two British men, Matthew Kilbride and Douglas Dick, hired by the ECB from Olive Security, or local officers, is not clear. What is, particularly after the substantial extra expense incurred, is the ECB's determination to ensure that the team do not ignore the measures in a few weeks' time when players are trying to remember what all the fuss was about.

"The players were keen that security should not be oppressive," said John Carr, the ECB's director of cricket operations, and here partly as a show of solidarity by senior management. "However, if they want to go out they will be discreetly accompanied at all times."

If such precautions seem over the top, they are not vastly different to those in place on England's last tour in 1992-93. Although not compulsory, players were advised to take an armed guard with them whenever they left the hotel, though this probably had more to do with the general unrest between Muslims and Hindus at the time than any specific threat to the players.

For those who have been to India, the threat of violence is small. Occasionally outbreaks do occur, like the recent anti-West protest in which seven people were shot by police in Malegaon, a town 100 miles north of Bombay. However, most Indians practice a soft anarchy where the rules, not bodies, tend to get broken.

As Gerry McCrudden, the press officer for the British High Commission, commented after briefing the team on a few local customs yesterday: "Indians are incredibly easy going people. As far as we're concerned, we've had no information or intelligence to suggest a specific threat to Britons in India. So as long as people behave nicely with good manners, I don't foresee any problems."

In case there are, metal detectors have been installed on the players' floor in the hotel along with half a dozen plain clothes officers. But if neither of those are unusual, the most effective measure has been the screening of all telephone calls. In India, someone like Nasser Hussain could get in excess of a hundred calls a day, though, in his case, most would be from from long-lost relatives seeking tickets.

Although nothing official has been said, the overriding impression is that the Indian authorities are having a giggle over the fuss made by Nasser Hussain's team. Since security for this tour first became an issue, they have made it abundantly clear that they considered extra security unnecessary. Yet, ever the perfect hosts, they have acquiesced to each of the ECB's demands.

Some traditions have been kept, though, which is why when an eager press corps turned up at the team hotel at 4am yesterday, the expected ring of steel outside the foyer turned out to be one nightwatchman with a lathi (a long stick favoured by police). But India moves in mysterious ways and here, at least, the lathi is certainly far more feared than the Kalashnikov.