Unity is key to England tour plans

Flintoff says team spirit was an important factor in decision to return to India
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The Independent Online

Any suspicions of division in the England squad were roundly dispelled yesterday by Andrew Flintoff. Before the team finally left for India, their leading musketeer made it clear that the terms of engagement were all for one and one for all.

This may be insufficient to beat India in either of the two Test matches, the first of which begins in Chennai on Thursday, but it is an essential component of an interrupted campaign which some observers suggested was lacking.

"We didn't want to get into a position where the team was split up," said Flintoff in explaining how they eventually reached the decision to resume their tour. "One of the reasons I decided to go was for my team-mates. Throughout the one day series, even though we got beat, the spirit in the camp was really good and that's something we don't want to lose. So unity has played a major part."

Flintoff and his friend Stephen Harmison had held more misgivings than almost all the other members of the touring party, fuelled by the fact that they have three and four children, respectively. But he said he chatted to his family and now just wanted to get on with it.

"I think everyone had their doubts. It's easy at times to link me and Steve. We've had our concerns but the one thing I wanted was just to get all the information presented in front of us so we could make an informed decision and we couldn't have done that before Sunday night."

It was, it seems, not only unanimous in the end but a decision reached with input from everybody. The senior members of the team did not necessarily influence the younger ones, who might have more to lose.

"Hopefully we will be inspired," said Flintoff. "The team have made the decision and we want to give a good account of ourselves. They're always happy to see us in India and possibly we can do something that is bigger than cricket. But we are going to win a Test series."

Unified or not, the right thing for cricket or not, there were claims in India yesterday that England had exacted a price from India for their immediate willingness to get the tour restarted after the interruptions caused by the terrorist attack on Mumbai in which at least 172 people died and hundreds more were injured. England, who were in Bhubaneshwar at the time some 940 miles away, left for home and the final two matches of the one-day series, in which they were 5-0 down, were abandoned.

Although safety and security concerns were the main criteria for any resumption – and heavily armed guards circled the perimeter of the Chepauk ground in Chennai all day yesterday – it may be that commercial concerns have also played a significant part. In return for ensuring the two Tests start on schedule, albeit in different venues, the England and Wales Cricket Board may have demanded and won significant concessions.

These are likely to include a place on the board of the Twenty20 Champions League from which they were contentiously excluded after a dispute with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. That could restore $3m (£2m) a year to the ECB's coffers.

They may also have loosely reached agreement on the limited participation of English players in the T20 cash cow, the Indian Premier League. India may have also been asked to make available their star players for the so-called England Premier League, which starts in 2010, something that was far from guaranteed. Those provisos apart, the tour has resumed entirely for altruistic reasons, as England's captain, Kevin Pietersen so resonantly put it, "to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Indian people."

It remains to be seen whether it is a metaphorical standing, given the worryingly possible absence of real Indian shoulders to stand by when the First Test begins in two days. The fear is that the crowd at the Chepauk ground will be embarrassingly low for such a symbolic match.

And while England's return was being hailed in many quarters yesterday, there was mild and understandable bewilderment in Pakistan. Rashid Latif, Pakistan's former captain, said teams were willing to tour India only because of their financial clout.

It is more than a year since there was a Test match in Pakistan, Australia indefinitely postponed a series there in April and the ICC Champions Trophy, scheduled for September, was also postponed. "It has nothing to do with security," said Latif. "It is terrible the way the ICC and other boards are insisting on cricket resuming in India. What happened in Mumbai was terrible, but if teams can play in India, why not in Pakistan? It is all about money and nothing else." Until the next international team lands in Lahore or Karachi, it is hard to disagree.