Dec 9, 2008

Sports Columnists - Nirmal Shekar;Cricket - Well Done England

The decision of the England cricket team to return to India to play two Test matches and fulfil its obligations less than two weeks after the Mumbai terror attacks must be unstintingly lauded by everyone who has anything to do with the game.

Although they might have copped some flak and run the risk of being portrayed as fair-weather tourists in sections of the media, it would have clearly been an understandable decision had they chosen to stay put at home. For, these were men who were very much in India, less than 900 miles from Mumbai — in Cuttack — when the attacks took place.

What they might have seen on live television in their hotel rooms — nightmarish images of the carnage that are likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives — would have hardly left room for any hope that they would be playing international cricket in this country just over 15 days later.

For all their bravery and fighting spirit on the field, professional cricketers are seldom obliged to deal with life-and-death issues in the line of duty. It would be ridiculous to expect them to show soldierly spirit and put their lives at risk for the sake of their sport. Emotions, too, can run high at a time like this and pressure from family members and close friends can break the strongest of wills.

Pragmatism and professionalism

That Kevin Pietersen’s team rallied with clear-eyed pragmatism and finally chose the difficult — yet correct — path is something that will be a lasting testimony to their sense of duty and professionalism.

Sport is not played in a vacuum. The vexing complexities of our times are bound to draw innocent ballgames into their vortex now and again. In the event, sportsmen, too, will have to be prepared to take difficult decisions in a difficult world.

What is more, in a unipolar cricket world with almost three quarters of the game’s income coming from India, it was very important that normal service quickly resumed vis-À-vis international cricket in this country. But it would be an insult to the collective spirit of the English team to surmise that money had anything to do with their decision to return.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) never put any pressure on the England Cricket Board to save the tour. The ECB itself left the final decision to the players themselves. This is precisely why Pietersen and his men should be celebrated as heroes.

Personal judgement wins

Surely, as much as the green-signal given by the Security Officer, Reg Dickason, who visited Chennai and held meetings with the City Police Commissioner and the office bearers of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, it was the players’ own judgement regarding the long-term interests of the sport that finally saw them board the flight to Chennai from Abu Dhabi.

Three years ago, after suicide bombers attacked the London Underground and a bus, killing over 50 people, the Australian cricket team panicked and almost packed its bags. But then, after it chose to stay on, we witnessed one of the finest Ashes series in history — a sporting monument to the victims of the 7/7 terror attacks.

Playing just two back-to-back Tests with hardly any preparation — and weighed down by so much emotional baggage — England and India cannot be expected to match Ashes 2005. But the quality of cricket that might be on offer should hardly be of any concern at a time like this. The very fact that the matches will take place is something that is of huge significance for the game in this part of the world.

Sport cannot do much to heal wounds inflicted by terrorists. But with their admirable show of solidarity at a difficult hour, the English players have sent out a simple message to professional sportsmen all over the world, the message that sport cannot run away from life.

It is time to salute Pietersen and his men.

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