December 3, 2008

England must lead the way

Andy Zaltzman

There has been an understandable concentration on the negative implications of some or all of England’s cricketers not returning to India for the Test series following the Mumbai terrorist attack. Far less has been said and written of the potential positive impact of them going and playing.

Sport has often been used to make political statements, its huge popularity and symbolic power exploited for both sinister and benevolent purposes. This Test series offers a chance for English cricketers not merely to provide a welcome distraction, but to make a potent public statement, a significant human gesture of defiance and of solidarity with the Indian people, that will have far greater and more lasting impact and meaning than any sporting achievements (or failures) on the field of play.

If England refuse to return, they should not be accused of cowardice, abdication of responsibility, or (with reference to the London bombings of the summer of 2005) double standards. These men are sportsmen, not soldiers or diplomats, and they have no occupational duty to confront danger. And the two situations, whilst comparable, are not identical. However, if they do go, it could prove to be one of the most praiseworthy and important deeds in the history of English cricket.

The result of the matches would be incidental; the team would have had even less practice and acclimatisation than they were originally scheduled to have, it seems unlikely to be a first-choice XI, and they may be unable play with optimum focus and intensity. But the fact that they did play would be remembered for all cricketing time.

Thus it often is when sport is played out of its sporting comfort zone, or when it collides with politics. Who remembers who won wartime matches or the Victory Tests of 1945? Or, less heroically, it is not the results and statistics of the rebel tours of South Africa that are carved into the history of the game, but the bald fact that they happened.

If the currency of Test cricket is slightly devalued by England fielding an understrength team, so what? It is routinely diminished for far less worthy reasons nowadays. England have a chance to claim a small slice of cricketing immortality. Let us hope they are first able, and then willing, to take it.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by James on (December 13, 2008, 10:49 GMT)

1. I have a great deal of respect for the players who have chosen to tour, but do not blame those who do not feel brave enought to take the chance. The players who are going are donating away half their salaries, so not "saying" they are sympathetic seems petty. 2. I really don't think locking out Pakistan is good for anyone. The problem is lawlessness, not geopolitics, especially as the new regime in Pakistan wants to catch those criminals as much as India does. The suspects seem to be dissafected young members of Laskar-e-Toiba who have gone on a wildcat attack of their own after the leadership went to ground following the organisation's recent banning in Pakistan. Democracies stifling democracies (especially precarious ones like in Pakistan) help no-one. except the terror perpertrators. (I know there's baggage with the Pakistani ISI and such, but give em a go). 3. Sport gets political, but this is not a case wothrty of sanction, unlike South Africa 1971-92 or toaday's Zimbabwe.

Posted by Aussie Din ks on (December 4, 2008, 22:45 GMT)

Solidarity I don't think so. I think that the English team and most other teams would happily stay at home but they dare not because if they do not go to India I am sure they would definitely spoil their chances of getting a contract under the IPL. So please lets not delude our selves with heroics and solidarity because it rubbish and we all know it.

Posted by cricket lover on (December 4, 2008, 19:18 GMT)

I agree with Linda. How can these English players be so insensitive towards the loss of life in Mumbai where they had stayed and been pampered in the near past. At least they should have shown some sympathy and condolences towards the victims of the attack. The only comments I see from them is how close they were!!!

Well just tell them it is an IPL tournament and they will be paid a million dollar each then they all will say there is no issue with the security. Even their wives and loved ones will sing the same song.

I don't care if they go to India or not. If they decide not to go then it will hurt them more than the BCCI and the Indian team.

Posted by SSCHICAGO on (December 4, 2008, 5:06 GMT)

This article is great and even though I am miles away sitting in chicago, reading these words and comments from Sir Ian Botham have sent blood rushing through my veins. I am an ardent cricket fan, and past few days has made all of us understand cricket ina new light - when it can extend beyond the boundaries and mean so much to a nation or two nations or the entire world. Not even Commonwealth nations but the entire world will take notice of England coming back as a symbol of humanity and courage, and so goes for India team as well. It takes a lot of heart to go back on the ground and play for 10 days. One good thing that has come out of recent happenings is that both cricket boards have been mature in their decisions and kept the IPL and Stanford on the backburner - this is not about money, but pure human spirit. Cricket traditions have been remembered for hatred and acrimony (Ashes), for once we should not fail to start a tradition of solidarity every time England & India play tests.

Posted by jaymin on (December 4, 2008, 4:59 GMT)

Great article Andy, I can see that you can also write some sensitive & knowledgeable articles along with the extremely funny ones that you write. It is so nice to see that there are still lot of decent human beings on earth and it is all not a cruel world out there. I am an Indian (currently living in australia) and my heart is deeply touched by all the english fans blaming their own team for aborting the tour and only worrying about their own sake. I understand that they are cricketers and not soldiers but the way they say that it could have been us had it been before a week is just not acceptible. It would have been the same when they had london bombings, did they not go to that part of london at any time during their life????? as for my pakistani fnds getting upset, ur country is the root of terrorism so no one would like to go there so dnt compare India with pak. Its not about IPL money, its about being safe and being human.

Posted by Ray on (December 4, 2008, 2:48 GMT)

Ok, that said I do agree that England coming back to play as a full team is worth high praise. It's a statement they don't have to make but if they do end up making it, it'll be a statement worth applauding for years to come. Even a 2-0 Test defeat will be, in terms of what really matters, a stunning victory.

Posted by Ray on (December 4, 2008, 2:42 GMT)

"I think it was a mistake not to move them to a closer place of safety."

Jackie, do you have any idea how big India is? You're saying that with the VVIP security protecting English players a thousand miles away from Mumbai, they were somehow not "safe"? Way safer tucked in between tens of elite commandos than back in England if you ask me. An interesting tangent is that with so many commandos being assigned to protecting VIPs, VVIPs, VVVIPs (ad infinitum), there are nought left for protecting average citizens. The decision to return is an obvious one, but knee-jerk decision to fly back in panic was nothing short of insanep.

Posted by Krishna on (December 4, 2008, 2:27 GMT)

Andy--Great! Under all that humor and satire lurks a sensitive heart. I would only like to add that among the positives for a probably second-fiddle English team, one would be a pleasant discovery that the second fiddle is better than the first.

Posted by Lokesh on (December 3, 2008, 20:19 GMT)

finally, a sensible article on cricinfo.

More than the game of cricket, its the message which is going out to terrorists - that you cannot defeat humanity by your guns. The focus in India is not on cricket and result of the match is of no value. its the message to terrorists thats of supreme importance. I believe, this would be the most important series that India and England would play in cricket history.

Posted by Jackie on (December 3, 2008, 20:14 GMT)

The team were flown back when the seige was still on. I think it was a mistake not to move them to a closer place of safety. The question of money is neither here or there. The decision to return is the right one, the only honourable one if security is in place. Who wins? Everyone regardless of the result of the games.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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