James Lawton: A test English cricket must not back away from

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The Independent Online

Travelling to the subcontinent as a cricketer has never been a stroll on the shady side of the street. Indeed, eight years ago half the England team were brought to their knees, if not their haunches, by a serving of curried prawns.

Ian Botham famously declared that he wouldn't wish the overall experience on his mother-in-law, and the distinguished correspondent Dickie Rutnagur once concluded a running match report from the subcontinent with the cheery declaration: "That will have to do for now, old boy, the pavilion appears to be on fire."

All that was, of course, before the world became a potential tinder box, but if there are plainly genuine concerns to be expressed about the security of the England team in India, it is still to be fervently hoped that the majority of the selected squad agree to take part in the forthcoming tour.

Yesterday those concerns were discussed in a meeting between the players, Indian security advisers and the Foreign Office, assurances were duly given, and the players now have a few days in which to make their decisions on whether or not to travel. The question surely carries us beyond the boundaries of sport and its relevance to the life of the real world.

That was a legitimate debating point when the authorities in America and Europe cancelled some of the sporting programme in the first shock waves of the terrorist atrocities.

Then, arguments that it was wrong to bring a pause to the routines of life and that to postpone big football matches out of respect for the still uncounted dead was somehow to surrender to terrorism seemed irrational if not puerile.

But that was six weeks ago. England's cricketers are now being asked to make the adjustment of priorities and nerve, that were in reality required of the whole world long before the smoke cleared in Lower Manhattan.

The quandary can be spelled out easily enough. Do the English cricketers do what half the hugely rewarded Chelsea football team did last week when they refused to travel to a match in Tel Aviv? Do they say that the world has simply become too dangerous a place for a professional to operate anywhere but in his own backyard? Surely not.

The invitation here is not to foolhardiness. It to is make a calculated decision about the risks involved in a tightly monitored, highly secured cricket tour. If the concerns of young family men prove too great, and they pull out, they can be respected for their personal priorities. But it cannot be said that they have done a whole lot for the value of sport as any kind of metaphor for the great challenges in life.

They will have opted for the illusion of life without danger, for displaying their skills only in arenas hermetically sealed against the tempestuous forces of life that, terrorist outrages or not, will always be more visible in a place such as India than in the county ground at Worcester.

For those players still locked in private debate there might be some perspective to be found in the experiences of the great England batsman Bill Edrich, who, in the course of one day and night, flew a bomber mission, scored a century for Norfolk and, it was strongly rumoured, successfully wooed a local barmaid.

His friend and rival, Australia's Keith Miller, always said that playing a match, at Lord's or any similarly hostile tribal setting always seemed a relatively mild test of the intestines once he had crash-landed his Mosquito during the Second World War.

Today, the more anxious cricketers will be told that the world has changed. But really, by so much?