England's cricketers were greeted by unprecedented levels of security after touching down in Chennai ahead of Thursday's first Test against India, having flown in from Abu Dhabi following their decision to resume the tour in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
The players, led by their captain Kevin Pietersen, were whisked through the arrivals hall at Chennai Airport, where a throng of eager fans and photographers had gathered to meet them. They were surrounded by an armed guard and shepherded onto their bus, before being driven with a police escort to their hotel.
England's return to India followed a week of intense soul-searching from the players, many of whom voiced serious reservations about returning to the country. In the end they were given clearance by their security officer, Reg Dickason, and the squad was made to feel welcome upon arrival at the team hotel, where each player was presented with a garland of flowers and marked with a Tika, the traditional Hindu red spot placed on the forehead which signifies health and prosperity.
According to the Joint Commissioner of Chennai Police, P Balasubramaniam, the remainder of England's stay in the city will be conducted behind a security blanket consisting of more than 5000 personnel. A squad of 300 commandos will be in place to provide watertight security for both teams, and the Commissioner told PTI that elaborate arrangements would be put into place at the hotel, and all along the route to the stadium.
"We are deploying over 5000 people at the hotel and stadium," said the Commissioner. "We have positioned 300 commandos at the hotel and 1000 police at the outer periphery of the hotel have been deployed since yesterday morning. These men will be at the job till the teams leave the city.
"Two thousand police personnel, including highest-level officers, will be doing duty at the stadium from today until December 15, the last day of the Test, for smooth and successful conduct of the match." An emergency evacuation route has also been planned.
Andrew Flintoff insisted that the decision to return to India had been a collective one from all the players, and Hugh Morris, managing director of England cricket, praised the England squad for their decision. "I said right from the word go that we wouldn't be twisting people's arms up their backs," he said. "It says a lot for the solidarity of the team that everybody is going to go across."