Flintoff and Harmison still doubts, says Moores
As the game of musical chairs over venues continued yesterday, fresh doubt surrounded the participation of England's two strike bowlers. Wherever the Test series between India and England is played, it is still possible that Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison will not be there.
Or at least that was the view expressed by coach Peter Moores as he watched the rain fall in Abu Dhabi, interrupting precious practice time for the increasingly accidental tourists. "I'm fairly confident everybody will go if the security report is OK," said Moores. "But it is a difficult situation and everybody sees things differently. Individuals have different views. The worry is that if somebody makes their choice one way or the other they get marginalised for it. Players are in different places. There are players I've spoken to more than others. Some make a decision quite quickly. For others it takes a bit longer. Fred has had issues and it's fair to say Steve has as well. The important message from me is we respect people and allow them to have views. That's OK, they are human beings.
"What I do know about those two guys is that they are massively proud to play for their country, both have missed out on Test cricket and both are desperate to play again. It's not as though they have been on the road for 18 months and are desperate for a break. If a player like that didn't go, it would hurt him as much sat at home as any of the other players."
Whatever he intended, it might have seemed that Moores was embarrassing his two main bowlers into going to India. Clearly, England are not quite as unified as they initially seemed when they regrouped at Heathrow on Thursday having briefly returned home after breaking their tour because of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Abu Dhabi was chosen as their training camp, a halfway house before returning to India. A final decision will be made tonight on whether to proceed – it will have to be with the First Test due to begin on Thursday.
The venues were again in doubt with speculation rife that the Second Test would be moved from Mohali to Bangalore. The various official bodies involved denied the move but the story was being run on several Indian television stations and on cricket websites. It would make some sense because at present England are scheduled to travel from Chennai in the south-east to Mohali, a suburb of Chandigarh in the north-west, a distance of 1,500 miles. Chennai to Bangalore is 225 miles.
There is the additional difficulty of getting out of Mohali late on 23 December when the Second Test is due to finish and home in time for Christmas. There are few scheduled flights.
On the other hand, Chandigarh, despite its proximity to the Pakistan border – Islamabad is fewer than 300 miles away – has been relatively trouble-free. Perhaps its closeness is the reason. Bangalore, however, is one of the seven cities to have suffered fatal bomb attacks this year.
Enforced changes were made to the original itinerary last week. It had been planned to play the Tests in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, but the latter was ruled out because of the terrorist attack and the former was then rendered as inhospitable because of a series of explosions last summer.
England had made provisions to practise all day at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium but their plans were hit by the weather. They are in unchartered territory, preparing for a Test without a practice match.
Hugh Morris, managing director of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Sean Morris, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, are inspecting the security in place in Chennai. They will return to Abu Dhabi tonight. It is decision time.
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