England's tour of India looks set to go ahead with reports of a warm-up match taking place in Abu Dhabi and Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, saying cricket will not be dictated to by terrorists. However, the availability of England players for the two-Test series still depends on a security assessment this week and the Daily Telegraph has reported that "at least five or six" players may pull out.
Reg Dickason, the ECB's security advisor, arrived in Chennai on Wednesday morning to inspect the venue and the team hotel for the first Test starting on December 11. He will also visit Mohali, venue of the second Test, before preparing a report on the safety situation in the country and the security measures in place for the touring team, BCCI officials said.
"Reg is going to Chennai and we are awaiting his reports," Clarke was reported as saying by AFP. "The security advice we are receiving has not changed and we are getting a lot of help and cooperation from everyone in India. A lot of progress has been made and some extremely good and constructive meetings have taken place. The BCCI is doing all it can to facilitate the tour, but we must do what we have to do properly and thoroughly. It is what every England player wants and deserves.
"Under no circumstances will we allow our cricket to be dictated to by terrorists. India is an enormous country and there are large parts of it that have never seen terrorist activity. In 2005 [when terrorists attacked parts of London], the Aussies were sensible and we are doing the same here." The National newspaper reported from Abu Dhabi that the England team would arrive in the UAE on Thursday amid strict security.
However, the Daily Telegraph quoted Dominic Cork, the former England fast bowler, as saying he expected a significant number of players to opt out of the tour. "I know of at least five or six players who are going to turn their backs on England," Cork said. "Those I've spoken to are traumatised."
BCCI sources told Cricinfo that Dickason "had sent a set of conditions before his arrival and during the inspection these things will be discussed". The requirements are believed to involve blanket security from Indian special forces. The Hindustan Times reported that the ECB had asked the BCCI for a group of commandos to accompany the team at all times along with an emergency evacuation plan in case of a terrorist strike and a security blanket over England's dressing rooms. Meanwhile, the Indian selectors are expected to meet in Chennai on Thursday to pick the team for the two Tests.
The ECB, which has been in close consultation with the British Foreign Office since the team returned home, has reiterated that the entire tour decision rests on the outcome of the security report, and it will not be rushed into making a final announcement. According to Sky Sports, however, the team has been told that the decision now rests with the players themselves.
Sean Morris, the England players' association (PCA) chief, is believed to have attended a Foreign Office briefing on Tuesday, along with the ECB's managing director Hugh Morris, and was due to meet with the players later in the day to discuss the issues. The PCA's "No. 1 consideration" remains the security report that is still awaited from Dickason, Morris said.
The Indian board shifted the two Tests from their original venues - Ahmedabad and Mumbai - to Chennai and Mohali following the terrorist strikes in Mumbai. Despite the itinerary changes, the ECB could send a weakened squad to return to India with at least three senior players believed to be against touring. They are Andrew Flintoff, who also suffered an ankle injury during last week's fifth ODI, James Anderson, whose wife is pregnant, and Steve Harmison.
The prospect of England returning to India was not welcomed by everyone. Speaking to BBC Radio Four, the former ECB chairman Lord MacLaurin, spoke out against a resumption of the tour. "I think the ECB will probably say yes and I think it will be very sad," he said. "I don't think any security people can actually say it's going to be safe. If it was left to me, I wouldn't go."
However, Nasser Hussain, who captained England's tour of India in 2001-02 shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York, wrote in the Daily Mail that the team had an obligation to get back out there and make a statement. "The country is so important to cricket and to the Indian people that we owe it to them to go back and play, as long as every possible precaution has been taken."