Mike Holmans December 4, 2008

Unsafe is the new safe

What 9/11 did to us all was make it clear that nowhere can be completely safe

In a city which endured 25 years of an IRA bombing campaign as well as the bus bombs of 7/7, I know what it is to live with the shadow of terrorism over one’s home town.

We carried on playing cricket even in London despite explosions, and India is a vast country compared to ours. A bomb in London is an unlikely pretext for calling off an event in Rome, though Rome is nearer London than Chennai to Mumbai. On the other hand, none of our atrocities were on the scale of the Mumbai massacre, nor were they targeted at a specific group of foreign visitors.

Whether the Indian authorities, let alone the British Foreign Office or the ECB’s security advisor, would consider the India v England cricket matches to be safe to continue with, I could not know from thousands of miles away. I somewhat envy those who were able to sound off on air and in print with the certainty so many arguing both for staying at home and flying back to India displayed, but I did not feel able to post. It’s a relief that a revised series is going ahead: it’s what I had hoped for, but galumphing on people’s sensibilities by saying so without any worthwhile understanding of the circumstances just seemed tasteless or downright rude.

It’s hard to remember in the immediate aftermath of an atrocity, but a billion Indians and the entire English cricket touring party survived the Mumbai massacre completely unharmed. While one square mile was the scene of death and destruction, nothing out of the ordinary happened in over three million other square miles in the country.

The evil is impossible to ignore but, coldly looked at, it really is extremely unlikely that the next attack will hit an India v England Test match, of all the possible targets available.

What 9/11 did to us all was make it clear that nowhere can be completely safe. Whether we are going on holiday or business (and you can choose for yourself which category playing Test cricket comes into), we have a non-zero chance of arriving at the scene of a terrorist incident wherever we go. There is also a non-zero chance that the plane will crash, but we don’t stop flying because plane crashes are unpredictable as to where they will strike and usually cause enormous loss of life.

India is a riskier place than it was. There will probably be a next attack in India, just as there is almost certain to be one in Britain because London especially is an outrage venue currently fashionable in terrorist circles.

But we now live in an age where risk has to be assessed and managed since it cannot be eliminated. It’s unfortunate that men like Reg Dickason are the crucial decision-makers on whether tours should proceed, but it is inevitable. Sometimes trouble-spots will be too hot to go to, but it will always depend on the exact circumstances pertaining at the time. And even if the security consultants give their blessing, the caveats that they will inevitably attach to some reports will fail to persuade the odd player, which will be regrettable but not a cause for derision or condemnation.

We do not yet know whether the original party England selected will go. I shall not be surprised if one or two opt out, whether because they themselves are scared or they cannot bear inflicting heartache and worry on their families by being away in a dangerous place. Having lived through years of bombs in my home city, I would have few qualms about going, but if others do not share such a robust attitude, well, so be it. Cricketers are only required to show the courage to withstand a few hours of hostile fast bowling, not to be in fear of losing their lives by the hands of persons unknown.

It’s a pity about the disruption, because England will be far less well-prepared than they should have been. The one-day outfit are pretty clueless, but the England team knows how to play five-day cricket. While the batting is weaker than Australia’s, the bowling attack is better balanced because it will contain at least one and probably two serious specialist spinners, and if Flintoff, Harmison and Anderson continue with the form they showed during the English summer, they make a better pace attack than Australia had – so India’s batsmen might be challenged rather more than they were by the Aussies.

If that doesn’t happen, either because they don’t turn up at all or because they do but bowl badly, we can pick up the comfort blanket of the disturbing circumstances as a catch-all excuse – but let’s hope that won’t be necessary.