England's itinerary suspense October 27, 2005

An opportunity squandered

The question of the summer, "Do you have any Ashes tickets?", has given way to autumn's inquiry, "Do you know England's tour schedule in India?"



England supporters, in their thousands rather than their hundreds, are queuing up to go to India. Or at least they would be if they had any clue about where and when the matches would take place © Getty Images

The question of the summer, "Do you have any Ashes tickets?", has given way to autumn's inquiry, "Do you know England's tour schedule in India?" The answer to both is no and if I had a rupee for every time I've been asked the latter, I might be able to buy Mr Dalmiya a drink.

And although the BCCI are due to announce the itinerary on October 29, it came about largely because of the October 31 ultimatum set by the ECB. Cricket followers in the UK just don't understand why itineraries for Indian international series don't get arranged until the last possible minute.

When it comes to travelling support, England lead the cricket world. And this is no Ashes bandwagon-jumping. This has been going on for about 15 years. Nor is it just the Barmy Army hordes who make up the thousands of England supporters' whose blind faith has led them to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, the Caribbean and Sri Lanka. England's tour of India next March should be a breakthrough tour in terms of travelling support.

England's tour in 2001-02 took place in the shadow of the September 11 attacks in New York and the real or imagined dangers that presented to European travellers in Asia. Three England players - Alec Stewart, Andrew Caddick and Robert Croft - opted out of that tour. England's last tour before that one was in 1993 and when it comes to British perceptions of India, the past really is another country.

For the first time, England supporters, in their thousands rather than their hundreds, are queuing up to go to India. Or at least they would be if they had any clue about where and when the matches would take place. India is now a hugely desirable - and exotic - destination for Brits whether they follow cricket or not.

This is not just about inconvenience and frustration for superannuated England fans wanting to spend their pensions on an exotic subcontinental holiday. Every day that passes without news is another potential holiday sale lost. British travel companies are the ones who lose out initially but what of the local economies in India that will reap the rewards of having the English cricket circus in town for a few days: the luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, shops.

Brits are a conservative lot and we like to plan ahead. Cricket supporters more so than anyone. People live by fixture calendars. "Yorkshire at Lord's? I'll take a week off." "Scarborough festival. I might call in sick that day."

Trips are already being sold to the World Cup in March-April 2007 and the Ashes in Australia. Thousands of England supporters will cash in their savings and make the trip.

There could be thousands in India but that likelihood is decreasing by the day which is a shame: for the England team and the local communities.

Mr Dalmiya may be bothered only about television money but if only he could see the bigger picture. Come on Jaggu, get those dates sorted out. India v England; Freddie v Sachin; The Turbanator v, er, Gilo. Let's get it on.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer