Security concerns March 8, 2009

Safety harnesses

Dear readers,

This post is not about domestic cricket or perhaps, not even about cricket, but about the prevailing circumstances in the game and our society in general. Today, this piece appeared in the Hindustan Times and I felt the need to share it with the people who follow my blog here. So here goes....

The terror attack in Lahore brought back memories of the time I spent in Pakistan during the 2004 tour. The security blanket thrown around us was unprecedented. Our team bus was part of a convoy that had a fire brigade, an ambulance, and helicopter surveillance along with quite a few police vehicles.

The roads were blocked and it was virtually a traffic free zone when we moved. We were briefed on the security protocol and were not supposed to leave the hotel without informing security personnel. They in turn would accompany us everywhere but only after they figured it was safe for us to do so. Otherwise, we stayed put.

Again, an armed guard always sat on the team bus during our Under-19 tour to Sri Lanka over 10 years ago because of the heightened threat from the LTTE. If someone had to get off the bus even for a bit, the guard would first decide if it was safe to stop the bus there, then get down himself to assess the situation, before letting anyone else get off. At that time, going anywhere on your own was out of the question. But still, it wasn’t anywhere near the kind of security arrangements we saw in Pakistan in 2004.

Then there was Guyana. This time, restrictions were imposed not because of terrorism but simply because of crime. We were told people got killed for even $10 so it was advisable to hide gold chains, mobiles and watches whenever in public. Kenya was much the same.

Yet, despite this all, we never once felt threatened. The thought that we could actually be targets never crossed my mind, so much so that a few mates and I actually played hookey and went shopping in Pakistan without telling anyone. We were duly served notice thereafter, obviously watched 24x7.

The Delhi blasts came and went and somehow, life went on. But the events of 26/11 in Mumbai changed it all. For the first time, I thought, ‘this could happen to me, my family, those I love’. I still go to movies, malls and crowded markets but to say that I’m not concerned would be untrue.

The damage in the attack on the Sri Lankan team was limited because the bus was able to move, once the driver got going. But I wondered about the horrific consequences if it had been stuck in a jam.

Last summer, my IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, took about an hour to get from our Delhi hotel to the Feroze Shah Kotla, our bus moving at a snail’s pace because of the massive traffic jam. In Kolkata, we were always provided a traffic free zone through which the bus whizzed by as part of a small convoy. It wasn’t always so elsewhere.

I expect things to be different now. In another world, things like jams wouldn’t matter. Now they do. Life and cricket’s landscape have irrevocably changed in the year gone by.

Cheers.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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