England’s tour to Bangladesh will be an inspiration to the game

England’s tour to Bangladesh will be an inspiration to the game

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By the end of this week, England’s cricketers will have had to decide whether or not to tour Bangladesh. The official word is to go, but the spectre of terrorism weighs heavily on young men to whom the world has become a small and threatening place. This very personal choice will be driven by instinct, opinion at home, and not least by the extent of their own ambitions. Of course, no one wants to give in to terrorism but it really isn’t that simple. England’s cricketers know their homeland and live within its problems and parameters every day of their lives. Bangladesh is an unknown. Alastair Cook has given a lead but it is not a directive. For the sake of Bangladesh, we must hope the players follow him. For those who do not, there will be neither blame nor shame.In a very different age I toured Bangladesh with the MCC. It was 1981, just a few months before Ian Botham turned the Ashes upside down, and over a four-week period 14 English cricketers of varied talents came to see the world through a new lens. We stayed in a two-star hotel in Dhaka, along with a legion or more of cockroaches, and in essentially primitive government rest houses everywhere else. Mostly we ate eggs, though the stoical among us quite enjoyed the curries served for lunch at the matches. On some evenings we had chicken, boiled or fried – at best you would call it stringy – and on others more spicy local food made with vegetables. We didn’t touch the tap water, drank a little whisky if we could lay our hands on it and slugged back dark green bottle after bottle of 7 Up. On visits to the British High Commission, we loaded up on beer treated with preservatives, which gave us crushing hangovers. No one grumbled. When we awoke each morning, the sun was shining.We played on hard-baked mud pitches against good cricketers and held our own. The crowds that greeted us in the towns did so with an almost ghoulish fascination, first staring as if we were from another planet – which we sort of were – and then breaking out in bursts of cheer and encouragement. At the cricket grounds, the reaction was different. Our best efforts were greeted by silence, as if they hadn’t happened. This was in direct contrast to the efforts of their own team, which were celebrated with a manic zeal. It is not so very different on the subcontinent today, though the IPL appears to have led to a greater appreciation of the game at large – as opposed to only the celebrities who play it.The captain of that MCC tour, Michael Mence, had to return home early due to dysentery. John Hampshire stood in for him and, though afflicted by stomach ailments himself, led us with the sort of no-nonsense approach required for such demanding conditions and feisty opponents. Most of us remember these eye-opening experiences with fondness. There was no luxury, just a common purpose and the resulting camaraderie.But this was not the world inhabited by the England players today. The nearest we got to a threat of terrorism was the third afternoon of the Dhaka “Test”, when an abrasive section of the huge crowd lit a fire in one of the stands, possibly because we had manoeuvred a promising position in the match. We left the field for an hour or so until the police sorted it. We were amateurs, touring out of choice and doing all we could for cricket’s global reach. Our aims and ambitions were far removed from those of the professionals of the moment.It is a fact that Islamic militants claimed responsibility for attacks that killed 29 people in a restaurant in Dhaka only two months ago and that a week later another attack led to four more deaths. No one knows whether it is safe for England to tour Bangladesh today. Equally, no one knows if it is safe for Bangladesh to tour England or, specifically, for any tourist to shop in the centre of London. Hardly anywhere in the cricketing firmament is categorically safe anymore – parts of the Caribbean maybe. But the game must go on if at all possible, otherwise there is no game.The ECB security team has covered the bases. The experts say there is no reason to cancel the tour. Each of the players has the right to make his own choice, and those who decide against might have to accept the consequences of absence if their replacement performs well. This is a part of the circle of life. We all make choices and have to accept the result of them.Security will be detailed and tight, making life less relaxed than would otherwise be the case. Cricketers mainly limit themselves to nearby cafés, restaurants and shopping malls, and these are as much a lottery as they would be anywhere else. This might be a tour on which to train hard, play hard and bunker down. The ground and the hotel will be alive with police and armed forces. The journey to and from will be protected by an armed guard. No stone will be left unturned to ensure safe passage.This is good enough for the England captain and might well prove to be good enough for the players under his command. Cook is not a man easily diverted from his responsibilities and his commitment to the cause is writ large in the position he has taken. Eoin Morgan is less sure. Cricket remains the one sport in which the captain’s word still echoes more loudly than that of the coach. Morgan has understandable concerns, and probably a general suspicion that the risk, at such a time of unrest, outweighs the potential reward of three one-day internationals in foreign conditions for his fast developing team. As it happens, the two England coaches – Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace – can offer an interesting perspective since both were working with Sri Lanka when the team bus was attacked by terrorists in Lahore in 2009. They can provide reassurance and also a dose of reality. Farbrace has said that he sees no reason not to tour.Either a player wants to go or he doesn’t. Both options are fine. One point for the players to absorb from outside the collective is that the decision should not be clouded, consciously or subconsciously, by the challenging playing conditions or the limited attractions of Dhaka and Chittagong. There is a nice golf course in Dhaka, and a club or two, but that’s about it on the recreation front. In general the pitches will be dry, bare and slow – not to everyone’s taste but a good rehearsal for India.If you tour Bangladesh, you tour for the cricket and for the joy of the people. You spread a gospel and inspire a movement for the game that has given you the life you love. It means a great deal to Bangladesh that England go there. More than it does to England that Bangladesh come here. Bangladesh faces the challenges of poverty, overpopulation, global warming and now terrorism. It is not a “lucky” country but it is a wonderful country, if not in the way of the wonders that are perceived to make this contemporary world spin round. And it is a cricketing country, where escape is found in the games of bat and ball.This is not to say that, individually, the England players have a responsibility to Bangladesh. Far from it. The responsibility is to themselves and their families. There is no case for persuasion or influence – only for reassurance and due diligence from the board, which has been both thoughtful and thorough. In this case, influence comes by example. Cook has laid out a marker. Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket, is bound to be on the plane too. Whatever individual choices are made, the ECB’s determination to go ahead is the right thing by Bangladesh and will be seen as an inspiration to the game.
source:EINnews

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