January 10, 2007

When tours reached tipping point

Eleven instances where tours have been abandoned midway or have been under threat

As India's tour of Australia rumbles on - for the time being - we look at XI instances where tours have been abandoned midway or have been under threat.

'Only one team is playing in the spirit of the game' - Anil Kumble's recent words were first heard in the Bodyline series of 1932-33 © Getty Images

England in Australia, 1932-33
In an era when "it's not cricket" was taken literally, the rumpus over Bodyline escalated debate on the Ashes series to government level and even threatened the stability of the Commonwealth. After the acrimonious Adelaide Test, the Australian board fired off wires to the MCC in London that struck a nerve, accusing the Englishmen of not playing by the rules. The MCC response was unequivocal and they called the ACB's bluff. "We deplore your cable. We deprecate your opinion that there has been unsportsmanlike play ... but if [the situation] is such as to jeopardise the good relations between English and Australian cricketers and you consider it desirable to cancel remainder of programme, we would consent, but with great reluctance." The ACB, faced with financial meltdown, caved in and the tour went on.

West Indies in England, 1939
Although the final Test took place in the third week of August, such was the way at the time that West Indies' tour was scheduled to rumble on into early September. However, even as the Oval Test finished there was an acceptance that war was inevitable and Britain was mobilising for it. When Kent, at the heart of preparations to defend southern England, cancelled the three-day match due to start on August 30, the tourists decided to head for home. Sussex, due to host them on August 26, were left fuming after receiving scant notice of their intentions, but the decision was a sound one. On September 3, when West Indies were scheduled to be in Skegness playing a Billy Butlin's XI, war was declared. They only finally arrived back in the Caribbean in November, after joining a transatlantic convoy for protection against German U-boats.

England in Pakistan, 1969
Replacing the cancelled South Africa trip, the three-Test series in Pakistan was played, Wisden reported, "against a backdrop of political upheaval, students and others rioting, law and order breaking down, bloodshed and destruction". In reality, the trip should never have started but the two governments wanted the series to happen, seemingly regardless of the safety of the players from either side. The first two Tests were played against an ugly backdrop, crowds mainly consisting of angry student agitators. The final one in Karachi was abandoned before lunch on the third day when a mob invaded the ground, tore up the stumps, vandalised the pitch and attacked the stands. During one invasion Tom Graveney struck two intruders on their backsides with his bat. "They were the two best strokes I made on the whole tour," he admitted.

England in Guyana, 1980-81
From the moment Robin Jackman replaced the injured Bob Willis, England's tour was heading for trouble. Jackman had played and coached in South Africa - he also had a South African wife - and in the era of apartheid that meant he was on a blacklist, the Gleneagles Accord, as a result. While most Caribbean islands took an ambivalent attitude, the hardline communist Guyanese government did not. Two days after his arrival in Georgetown, Jackman was served with a deportation order and he left with the rest of the England squad to Barbados. But other islands refused to give assurances he would be admitted and for days the whole tour was on the verge of being scrapped as England waited in Bridgetown. In the end he was allowed to play, and although Guyana threatened to block their players representing West Indies, they eventually backed down.

New Zealand in Sri Lanka, 1992-93
New Zealand's players were breakfasting outside at their Colombo hotel when, 50 metres away, a suicide bomber blew himself and four others up. "The tourists saw the horrific results at first hand," Wisden noted. "Dismembered bodies were strewn over the blood-stained street; even the balconies and walls of the hotel were stained with human debris. Many of the players went into shock." What followed was nothing short of disgraceful, as Peter McDermott, the chairman of the New Zealand board, pressured the players, most of whom wanted to head home, to play on. His actions split the side. Six players plus the coach, Warren Lees, left. Ken Rutherford stayed but warned other countries against touring, subsequently withdrawing his comments after pressure from the ICC.

Stephen Fleming feels the strain after the bomb blast outside New Zealand's team hotel in Karachi © Getty Images

New Zealand in Pakistan, 2002
Delayed for seven months in the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan's desire to be seen as a safe destination to play cricket was dashed when a car bomb in front of the New Zealanders' Karachi hotel killed 14 people. Only one of the party was hurt, hit by flying glass, but most witnessed the horrific injuries to bystanders. Mike Procter, the ICC referee, immediately announced the cancellation of the second and final Test and the Pakistan board agreed, despite it being another blow to their crippled finances. New Zealand headed home soon after. There were more ramifications as Australia refused to visit and the Test series between the two was played in Colombo and Sharjah.

England in India, 1984
England's tour was hours old when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. For several days the side were holed up in a Delhi hotel while the boards argued over the future of the trip and the country was in uproar. India, who were in Pakistan, scrapped their tour midway through a one-day international and headed home. Eventually, the England squad flew to Sri Lanka while India observed a 12-day period of mourning, and the two boards rowed over a revised itinerary. After nine days the side returned to India, but on the eve of the first Test, less than four weeks later, Percy Norris, the British deputy high commissioner, who had entertained the touring party at a reception in his home the previous evening, was shot dead as he was being driven to his Bombay office. Both outrages took place within a mile or two of where the team were staying. Wisden noted: "Had the decision been left to the team, or more particularly to a majority of the representatives of the British press, there is little doubt they would have taken the first available flight home."

England in Pakistan, 1987-88
Possibly the most fractious tour of the modern era, remembered for dubious umpiring in the first Test and the standoff between Mike Gatting, the England captain, and Shakoor Rana, which cost a full day's play in the second Test and almost led to the England side heading home. As ever, politics came into play and the England board forced Gatting, against his wishes, to apologise. His side had threatened to refuse to play on if such an order was given, but in the event they backed down though not without issuing a damning press release attacking their own board. It later emerged that government pressure was partially behind the board's decision, which may help to explain the £1000 hardship bonus they awarded to each player.

Australia in Zimbabwe, 2005
Australia arrived in Zimbabwe after months of will-they-won't-they debate and found themselves up against a Zimbabwe side stripped of most of their main players by a bitter dispute between them and their politicised board. It was clear from the off that a Test series would be a gargantuan mismatch. Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, flew to Harare to bash out a deal but was left kicking his heels by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, which refused to meet him. On the eve of the first Test, Zimbabwe's board suspended itself from Test cricket and Australia headed home. The ZCU claimed victory, insisting that they remained in control of their own destiny, while Cricket Australia made clear the Test series would not be rearranged hastily. As for the ICC, it hollowly trumpeted that the "integrity of the game" had been preserved.

Pakistan in England, 2006
It's hard to forget what happened at The Oval in August 2006, when Darrell Hair's five-run penalty against Pakistan triggered a chain of events that led to them forfeiting the final Test. With a lucrative one-day series to follow, the livid Pakistan board made clear that the remainder of the tour was in doubt. "The ICC moved rapidly to isolate [Hair] and allay any possible fear of an Asian breakaway," Wisden reported. "Within days, Speed flew to London to publish damaging private correspondence with officials. There was a five-week delay before the inevitable disciplinary proceedings against Inzamam, which allowed the one-day series to go ahead calmly and the issue to vanish from the headlines."

South Africa in Sri Lanka, 2006
A one-day series already rendered forgettable by poor weather was scrapped following a bomb blast near the South Africans' hotel in Colombo, but not before the South African board had dithered for 48 hours. Eventually, it fell back on a report from its independent security consultant that the risk to the team was at an "unacceptable level". The Sri Lankan board vehemently disagreed, and Percy Sonn, the ICC president, also attacked the withdrawal. "The spirit of cricket is also about a commitment to play even under the worst circumstances," he said. The South Africans were quick to point out that Sonn was not the one in the firing line.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo