Players will not be 'forced' back to India, insists Miller

Critical security report due today but chief selector only wants really focused players
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The Independent Online

Geoff Miller, England's chief selector, only wants England players to return to India to play in the two-Test series if they are in the right frame of mind. The fate of England's interrupted tour is expected to be decided today when the results of an independent review into safety and security in India are presented to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Last week's terrorist atrocities in Mumbai have had a huge effect on the emotional state of Kevin Pietersen's side, who arrived back in the United Kingdom on Saturday evening, and there are suggestions that several of the team's leading players – including Andrew Fintoff and Stephen Harmison – will not return even if the report informs the ECB that India is safe.

Current indications suggest the tour will resume, but the views of Reg Dickason, the team's security advisor, will be crucial. Pietersen's team trust Dickason implicitly. "The players will be left to make their own decisions and they won't be forced to go back even if the security reports are favourable," said Miller yesterday. "If we do go back we've got two tough Tests to play so the focus has got to be right. Players need to be on full mettle.

"There is no point in players going out there if their mind is on self-preservation. We need them performing with bat and ball. But, depending on the character involved, it might not be right for some. I've not spoken to everyone yet but Kev [Pietersen] is doing a ring round to canvas opinion. I'm expecting to hear back from everyone over the next day or so. There is no timeline but players realise that we have to move fast if we are to go back.

"If some players choose to stay at home the selectors will have to re-assess, but their decision to miss the Test series will not count against them. As cricketers we owe it to the game to complete those fixtures but the security of the players is paramount." Cricket's governing body, the International Cricket Council, has urged England to go ahead with the series if safety issues are addressed.

"If safety and security allow, then I would urge the England Test tour of India to go ahead and if it does so then representatives of the ICC will be there to show solidarity with the competing teams," their chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, said in a statement.

"And if those Tests are played I would also urge supporters of the game to attend them as that will be the best way to send a message to those who seek to disrupt our way of life, that we will not be prevented from doing what we want or what we enjoy."

At a time like this it would appear crass to openly talk about money and careers, but these issues are at the forefront of the board's and many players' minds. The Board of Control for Cricket in India eased some of the pressure on the ECB when it said it would not press them for compensation should the series be postponed. Were they to, it could potentially cost the English game millions of pounds.

It is easier for those players who are assured of their places to withdraw from the tour than those who are not. One such fringe player is the England off-spinner Graeme Swann. "I wouldn't be 100 per cent happy going back," he said. "If the report says, 'Look guys, we're safe, we can go out there, we can do some good playing cricket', then I'd go. But until that report comes back, I'm not keen at the minute.

"It's tricky for people like myself who are trying to forge a regular place in the team. You think that if I don't go I may miss out on future selections, which clouds the issue."

Miller's words offer encouragement, but the fear is that the player who replaces you scores a hundred or takes a bagful of wickets. It is he who then has the right, on cricketing grounds, to play in the next match. Robert Croft pulled out of England's 2001 tour of India soon after the horrors of 9/11. The decision was not held against him but on the tour Ashley Giles became England's number one spinner.

The counter-argument is that is it right for a player to travel solely for these reasons? They are hardly the most positive, and are unlikely to bring personal success. The problem with this whole situation is that there is a flip side to every view anybody takes.

Ideally, the England management would want the same group of players that were in India in the first place because topics like these can cause division amongst the team. Andrew Strauss, the England opener, alluded to it earlier this year when talking about Zimbabwe. Strauss said: "The issues that arose during the debate about whether we should play in Zimbabwe caused problems that affected the side for the next 12 months."

With the Ashes now only eight months away the England team need to be united. The last thing the team need is resentment in their ranks or towards the ECB. During the Zimbabwe affairs the players felt as though they were being used as pawns in a political game, which was not conducive to a good working relationship.

The predicament has placed Pietersen in an unenviable position too. When talking about his new role as captain he said that he now had to view things from both a playing and board point of view. A captain has to lead and Pietersen's credibility within the team would take a huge hit if the tour was to take place and he refused to travel. A captain should not ask members of his team to do something that he is not prepared to do himself.

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