England’s cricketers may have left Bangladesh with their tails between their legs but in one important respect at least they travelled to India for the upcoming tour with their heads held high.
Throughout the early part of the summer clear messages were being relayed from many connected with the England set-up that it was highly likely the trip to the ’desh would be called off on the grounds of security.
Until that point, nothing much had improved, it was said, since Australia called off their two-Test tour there in October 2015, following intelligence reports of the threat of militant attacks.
Back then Cricket Australia had been offered an unprecedented level of security – VVIP, no less – but it was not enough.
And when, on the first day of last July, that threat became the ghastly reality of a terrorist outrage in Dhaka that resulted in the death of 20 hostages and two police officers, the latest in a number of similar incidents that had placed security officers on high alert, the decision to cancel seemed a mere formality.
Tapping into the knowledge of their contacts within the security services, when the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) sent their own team, led by the estimable Reg Dickason, they were fully prepared for him to return with a negative response.
And so aware were they of their duty of care to their employees that, even before their representatives arrived in Bangladesh, they offered their players a Get Out Of The Tour Free card, more or less snatched out of their hands by ODI skipper Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales.
To any supporters thinking of making the trip, the Foreign Office warned that, following assessments of security at Dhaka International Airport, the UK Department for Transport had concluded: “Security at Dhaka airport does not meet some international security requirements.”
The Barmy Army took the hint.
As for coach Trevor Bayliss and his No.2 Paul Farbrace, their bitter experience of the fatal attack on the convoy carrying their Sri Lankan team during the second Test against Pakistan in 2009, a series in which they, too, had been afforded “presidential-style security” by the Pakistan government, might have more than enough reason to persuade them to pull out.
And the pressure on other players to do likewise would surely have been intensified by the wholly understandable concerns of wives, partners, families and friends that they might be putting themselves in harm’s way for a few games of cricket.
Yet, despite all that, once Reg had been satisfied that the level of risk involved was acceptable and that all steps would be taken to ensure their safety, all but the aforementioned opted to go.
Merely by making that decision, they had already done the game there, and worldwide, a service.
Now, after five weeks of fascinating ODI and Test cricket culminating in Bangladesh’s historic first Test victory, no matter how galling England’s second innings subsidence, Alastair Cook and his team deserve a great deal of credit for going at all.
How easy would it have been for them to turn their backs on playing Test cricket in Bangladesh as so many had done before (and for far less valid reasons), at a time when that country’s cricketers, and those millions who support them, needed them more than ever before?
But they took the harder road, and if their achievement in unwittingly providing the next generation of Bangladesh supporters with new heroes to champion was not what they had in mind at all, an exchange of tweets between Ben Stokes and his nemesis Shakib Al Hasan showed what the experience meant to all concerned.
Shakib, who couldn’t resist treating Stokes to his best Marlon Samuels impression after dismissing him on the final day, wrote to the England star: “Special thanks to ECB and the team for giving us the chance to host you all and Salute for trusting us.”
The all-rounder rook the gag in good heart, responding: “Thanks for having us Bangladesh been a brilliant Test/ODI series, salute to the security and the people and of course @Sah75official (Shakib’s twitter name).”
Shakib replied: “You’ve always been a good mate, buddy.” And Stokes ended with: “Be better mates if you stopped getting me out.”
Forget the onfield nonsense, this is the sort of ‘exchange of views’ cricket wants and so badly needs but it should not be forgotten that it only happened because England had the courage to go where others feared to tread.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, November 4 2016
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