England touch down in Chennai
England’s players were met by armed police and a flurry of activity outside Chennai airport when they landed to resume their tour of India.
More than a week after halting their seven-week tour in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, England’s players returned to the subcontinent in readiness for the two-Test series due to start on Thursday.
They were met by around 1,000 fanatical cricket fans and were surrounded by armed police almost as soon as they stepped off flight EY268 from Abu Dhabi, where they had spent the last few days at a training camp considering whether to continue the tour.
Led by captain Kevin Pietersen, they marched through the airport flanked by police guards and were led onto a team bus before being driven to their hotel in Chennai for the next eight nights.
Their arrival caused a ripple of excitement outside the hotel, with fans jostling to find a position to take pictures with their camera phones before the players were quickly driven away.
The fuss and excitement surrounding their arrival continued when they arrived at their hotel. They were presented with a garland of flowers and marked with a Tika, the traditional Hindu red spot placed on the forehead which signifies health and prosperity.
While India waited for England’s arrival at Chennai’s international airport, security was already being tightened at hotels and at the Chepauk Stadium, the venue for Thursday’s hastily rearranged opening Test.
Officially confirmed as the venue for the start of the two-Test series only this week after several days of negotiations between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, security was evident even three days before the Test.
Spectators, who normally turn up in droves to watch practice sessions, were noticeable by their absence as a handful of India’s cricketers, including captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rahul Dravid, enjoyed the net facilities during the afternoon.
The RAF, all of whom were dressed in blue combat uniforms, are the heavily-armed equivalent of the police force and are usually utilised to control riots, but now face a big role in patrolling the stadium during the build-up to the Test.
For all the understandable focus on security in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, however, India is also starting to anticipate the excitement of the forthcoming Test series.
The current players are still coming to terms with the impact of the attacks, which killed 188 people during an organised campaign on several of Mumbai’s leading landmarks.
Mumbai resident Sachin Tendulkar has admitted to being “haunted” by the incidents while young leg-spinner Amit Mishra believes the events will help motivate India when the cricket finally resumes on Thursday.
“We’re all pained and saddened by what happened in Mumbai, but it will motivate us to give our best for the country,” admitted Mishra.
“We hope to win convincingly and try to bring some cheer to the public, who have undergone a lot of pain in the last few weeks.”
England will also be provided with plenty of support off the pitch when the series gets underway with ECB chairman Giles Clarke flying out to offer moral support to the team.
David Collier, the ECB chief executive, has also changed his plans. Instead of flying home from the International Cricket Council’s chief executive’s meeting in Cape Town, he has also now diverted to Chennai.