A potential power-struggle is looming over the fate of England's Test series in India as the team travels home following the terrorist atrocities that rocked Mumbai for three days. The squad is due to arrive at Heathrow on Saturday evening and have a very short time period to decide what to do next. The first Test is still scheduled to start in Ahmedabad on December 11 and there is an issue over where England would practice.
Officials from both England and India are adamant that the Test series will go ahead, particularly after the BCCI agreed to shift the second Test from Mumbai to Chennai after a request from the ECB. According to Kevin Pietersen, however, the situation is not so cut-and-dry. If his team-mates have reservations about taking part, he will not be forcing them to re-join the tour.
"We need to make sure the security's right - but if it's not safe then we won't be coming back," Pietersen said. "People are their own people, I'll never force anyone to do anything or tell them to do anything against their will. On the field I may ask people to do things in a certain way but people run their own lives. We'll have to see how the security is.
"I do think the BCCI will make every single effort to get us back here playing Test-match cricket in India. There are TV rights and financial considerations and they run world cricket don't they? But we will not come back to India if it's not safe. My life means more to me than anything else and I won't come back if it's not safe."
Sean Morris, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, said the ultimate decision on the tour will rest with the ECB. "It won't be down to the players, it'll be down to the ECB ultimately, and we are comfortable with that," he told Cricinfo. "We have worked very well with our board in the past, so we are confident of the processes involved and with the people who provide the information."
However, Morris insisted that there would be no extra pressure to reach a resolution despite the huge influence that India currently wields in world cricket. He confirmed that the security report will be compiled partly by the team's security consultant, Reg Dickason, along with input from an independent body and cooperation from the board.
There is the strong possibility of a weakened England side returning to India if players make individual decisions on whether to tour. There is a precedent for that, as following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 Robert Croft and Andrew Caddick opted out of the India tour.
A spokesman for AKE Group, a leading UK-based security firm, told Cricinfo that the level of risk faced by the England team "should not be overstated". He did, however, concede that the high-profile nature of the team, coupled with the fact that their itinerary is widely publicised, could be a justifiable cause for concern. "India is not Iraq, it is not a naturally hostile environment," said the spokesman. "But Britain is a front runner in the war on terror, and therefore an attack on one of their sporting teams would be high political capital, and a fair strike, so to speak."
England are still scheduled to take part in a planned warm-up match in Baroda on December 5-7, which effectively means that the players will have no more than five days to reach a consensus and return to the country. The possibility is being discussed of England preparing in either Dubai or Abu Dhabi and then flying straight into India for the Test series.
In the opinion of Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, there is little chance of England feeling safe enough to return to India in the foreseeable future. "It's getting closer," he wrote in his Daily Telegraph column. "I remember watching on TV a few weeks ago as the lorry-full of bombs went off at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, where England were due to stay for the Champions Trophy, and thinking crikey, it's getting close. Now it's Mumbai, where the Middlesex players were due to stay on Thursday night. There seem to be these triggers, or warnings, that it is getting closer to cricket.
"I didn't think we were under threat in Bangalore," Vaughan continued, "and history to date says cricketers are safe. But our security man said we couldn't go in our England kit to the hotel where we eat 60 yards across the road from the stadium, and we'd have to go in cars, we couldn't walk. We were told we couldn't go to any of the hotels in Bangalore that westerners use."
Another former England captain, who preferred not to be named, told Cricinfo that he believed that the Test series would have to be postponed in the wake of the atrocities, although he predicted a tricky round of negotiations between the English and Indian boards before the matter could reach a conclusion. If previous political stand-offs were anything to go by, the two boards were likely to present conflicting security reports, with the players caught very much in the middle.
One significant voice in support of the tour, however, is Michael Atherton, another former captain, who wrote in his Times column that he intended to travel for the Test series unless the Foreign Office advice changed in the meantime. "While it may seem inappropriate to say so right now, I hope the Test series in two weeks' time can still go ahead," he wrote. "One thing is for sure, however: since 9/11, much of the fun and spontaneity of watching sport has disappeared beneath an avalanche of security requirements. Sadly, sport, long regarded as a playground for those who want to abscond from the grim realities of daily life, is no longer immune."