England's squad are divided about whether to make the winter tour of India. It became clear yesterday that several senior players may refuse to fly out on 13 November as scheduled while others are not only willing but eager to go.
Although two or three dissenting players could be replaced, the withdrawal of many more would make it impossible for it to continue. That, in turn, could eventually lead to damaging breaches in the game. There have been no major disturbances in India, but part of the tour is due to take place close to the volatile region of Kashmir.
The England and Wales Cricket Board are desperately keen to persuade the party that it will be safe for the tour to go ahead as planned but above all they want to keep a united front. All 16 players and officials will attend a meeting at Lord's on Tuesday where the ECB line will be supported by senior Foreign Office civil servants.
The board hope their trump card will be Sir Rob Young, the British High Commissioner in New Delhi. But the stance taken by England's captain, Nasser Hussain, is certain to be influential in persuading doubters either way.
Andrew Caddick, the side's leading fast bowler, said yesterday that he would definitely not make the trip unless there was a decisive shift in world events. Caddick, whose wife Sarah gave birth to their second child a week ago, said: "I really can't see how they can guarantee our safety in India. While it is not an Islamic state there are thousands and thousands of Muslims and it would only take one to create mayhem for us. I doubt if I can be convinced. It is all very well for officials to say it's safe. But my worry is that we're recognisable and it's bound to be a high-profile tour. One major incident and then it's too late."
Caddick is far from alone. The all-rounder Craig White has already said the tour is too risky and Graham Thorpe has expressed serious reservations although it is understood he will go if he is persuaded by the security arrangements. Robert Croft, Ashley Giles and Caddick's Somerset team-mate, Marcus Trescothick, all have serious doubts.
While players who are prepared to go have not made their feelings public for fear of causing a split in the ranks they are approaching Tuesday's meeting with an open mind. "I don't want to make any decision until I've found out what the Foreign Office has to say," said Mark Ramprakash. "They're surely the people who know what's happening there." The first-time tourists – James Foster, Rob Dawson, James Ormond and Usman Afzaal – will probably fall into line behind the tour. It would be natural for them to want to take their opportunity and none is married or has children. Afzaal's views as a devout Muslim will surely be sought.
Part of the difficulty for the ECB and the FO is that advocating the tour might be seen as contradictory advice. The FO's website currently contains enough cautionary words for any player to harbour doubts. "All British nationals are strongly advised to keep a low profile, maintain a high level of vigilance, avoid situations where there might be tension and stay in touch with fast-moving events. Demonstrations and public events should be avoided." It later adds: "We believe that India is one of a number of countries where there is an increased risk to British interests from global terrorism."
There are four possible outcomes. The first is that the decision is unanimous and the tour goes ahead, the second is that two or three players pull out and are replaced, the third is that half the party decline to tour and it is cancelled. The fourth, more unlikely, is that a neutral venue is found for the series in line with the new policy of the International Cricket Council, agreed on Friday.
If the tour is off, India may retaliate and refuse to tour England next summer. Confusion clearly reigns. When Tim Lamb, the ECB chief executive, was on BBC TV News last Friday night urging that the tour should happen the caption read: "Sir Jimmy Savile, former Top of the Pops presenter." How he must wish.Reuse content