Hiding behind closed doors

Derek Pringle looks at the paranoia afflicting England's reluctant tourists; While Atherton explores the sights and sounds of Pakistan his players lock themselves away in their hotel rooms

FOR many of the England squad, the greatest enemy of this World Cup will not be Australia, Pakistan or India, or even the bubonic plague, but how to spend their time between the business of playing matches. There is nothing particularly new about this. England cricket tours to the subcontinent have long been seen as tests of character rather than cricket, where players stick together unaware that the constant off-field companionship can be every bit as wearing as the cricket on it.

But while some believe this siege mentality forges a tight team spirit in places like India and Pakistan, others reckon that by creating a fortress, doubts and fears become just as contagious as tummy upsets, quickly infecting those prone to home- sickness and paranoia.

There is no other sport played that demands more time in the company of team-mates than Test cricket, particularly abroad, where hotel rooms and airport lounges take on the familiarity of a second home. So when the odd window of opportunity to get away from the cricket presents itself - as has happened frequently during this World Cup - the players would surely jump at the chance.

Sadly most don't, forgoing the possibilities of adding to their store of knowledge and experience. By turning their backs, usually through a combination of lack of interest and intimidation, they are squandering the opportunity to deepen the unquestioning and self-regarding personality so often possessed by professional sportsmen.

However, not everyone is guilty of passing up the privilege of sampling the sights, sounds and food. Between novels by VS Naipaul and Pat Barker, Michael Atherton, a voracious reader, has been to see the Badshahi Mosque, in Lahore, although the only person sufficiently interested to accompany him was the tour manager, John Barclay.

The same duo were also the only members of the party to sample the Afghani cuisine of the Khan Club in the back streets of Peshawar, where diners reclined on cushions. The other players have been relying for sustenance almost entirely on tinned supplies, or burgers from the American club.

There appears to be an irrational fear over losing control of one's bowels, and something almost heretical about paying the ensuing homage to the porcelain gods. Perhaps it is that sense of losing control - something all sportsmen fear - that produces the near-laboratory conditions this England team live and eat in. With a squad of only 14, caution is understandable, and players are taking anti-malarial tablets, combined with an antibiotic to prevent small infections taking hold.

Far more important, though, is the need to wash one's hands constantly, dirt being a far greater source of bacteria than the local food, which, apart from being deliciously spiced, is more likely to be cooked correctly than either spaghetti or pizza - the culprits suspected of causing the recent stomach upsets in both the Dutch and English camps.

Some, however take caution to ridiculous lengths. Like his father, Mickey - who only ever ate omelettes when touring this part of the world - Alec Stewart is a careful eater. So far his range of dining implements has extended as far as tin-opener and fork, a combination only marginally more limited than the fare, which has consisted mainly of baked beans, tuna and bully beef. Such an unchanging routine is mirrored in the joyless sterility that has now begun to surface in his cricket.

Jack Russell is a finicky eater too, a cussed soul, who prefers soggy weetabix and bananas to almost anything but a cup of tea. It is a diet that speaks of reclusion and yet in spite of having to work hard at both batting and keeping, Russell has been one of the few to take advantage of the spare time. He has constantly been seen heading off with oil paints and canvas under his arm in a bid to capture the gaudy colours and frenzied activity of the teeming bazaars.

Such exotica is all around the observer here, and to anyone prepared to remove both their dark sunglasses and their prejudices there are rich rewards. Something Peter Martin, the other artist in the team, has done, photographing both the country and its people with a gusto rare in the present England set-up.

The trouble is that cricketers, like university students or anyone else cloistered by an institution, are cosseted from the perpetual effort required of life in these parts, where the sheer energy levels on the streets and the rampant displays of poverty can overload and intimidate all but the most open of minds.

As a result, the easy option is to opt out and spend one's leisure time back at the hotel. There, the choice of either lying on a poolside lounger or in your hotel room bed, watching videos or listening to music, are about as challenging as it gets.

Such a sedentary approach has its drawbacks. Perhaps if Darren Gough had ventured down the thronging Qissa Khawani in Peshawar on the last shopping day before Eid, he might have learnt how to interact with the Pathan male and avoid being used for target practice during the Holland match.

The players will claim they are here for the cricket, to win the World Cup. If they do, plaudits and fanfares will abound. But for those who bothered to glance about them and took the trouble to delve deeper, it will be the other memories that endure. Not the winning of another one- day match, however important that may be to others.

Suggested Topics
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
football
News
i100
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

IT Support Engineer (1st and 2nd Line) - London

£22000 - £24000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer (1st...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?