A gesture worthy of appreciation

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The heroes of those ghastly hours in Mumbai need to be backed up, writes Peter Roebuck

England’s decision to return to India commands respect. Australia’s cricketers have repeatedly turned to jelly in the face of arbitrary danger. The Kiwis have been the same, cancelling a match in Kenya because a security man said traffic lights were not working or some such thing. South Africa has been equally timid, rushing home from Colombo even as sportsmen from others nations arrived and schoolboys from their own country urged their masters to let them stay.

Senior players once wanted to call off a tour after a bomb went off in an empty warehouse in Karachi. To be fair the ‘Boks’ held their nerve on the last trip to Pakistan. As well they might, coming from a country with the second highest murder rate in the world.

All the more reason for the English to display some old fashioned ‘stiff upper lip’. Apart from anything else the courageous staff at the Taj, the policemen who risked their lives to thwart the terrorists, the workers at Leopold’s cafe and at the train station, who refused to be cowed, and all the other heroes of those ghastly hours deserve to be backed up.

It is not a time to run. By doing their duty, and beyond these, Indians were fighting to protect our way of life, deeply flawed though it may be — with the greedy and the generous, the wealthy and the desperate, the pampered pets and the hungry humans. Asked for an opinion on Western Civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi said he thought “it would be a good idea.”

It could not have been easy for the England players to agree to return so soon to the land of those sickening sights. Imagine them in their rooms watching the horror unfold on television, hardly more than boys some of them, receiving a hundred anxious messages from parents and partners, and earnest enquiries from children.

At such times, security officers give all sorts of warnings. ICL players staying in Ahmedabad were told to lie low till they could be whisked to the airport and flown home. In Jason Gillespie’s case the call came at midnight and by dawn he was in the air.

At such times, thoughts turn to families and friends and the walls seem to be closing in. Suddenly money and sport do not seem to matter all that much. Accordingly it did not come as a surprise to find England hurrying home.

It must have been pleasant to be back watching familiar programmes, sitting in the customary armchair, fooling around with the dog, following the fortunes of Doncaster Rovers or some other soccer side, and all the other delights which sportsmen sacrifice for a life on the road. It must have been tempting to stay put. To make matters worse they had been getting a hiding. Not that defeat any longer mattered.

Instead England agreed to go back to play two Tests. Admittedly the venues have been changed but that was only sensible. It was not fit to ask England or anyone else to play a serious match a few hundreds yards from the Taj. The pervasive gloom and the profound sorrow would have made it hard to concentrate. Not that it will be easy to play anywhere. Fears that the matches will feel hollow may have merit. But that does not mean they should not be played. The decision to go back has two significant characteristics. Firstly it shows that Kevin Pietersen can lead a team through a crisis. In the words of my grandfather, his side has “fixed bayonets and charge(d) again.” Secondly England’s willingness to go back makes the long awaited split on racial lines less likely. It’s the most pressing issue in the game.

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