England determined not to be divided
England arrived back in India today with a majority rule persuading the whole squad to resume the suspended tour.
Some members of the squad understandably harboured reservations about returning to the country after the one-day leg of the tour was cut short following the terror attacks in Mumbai.
But a final security report delivered by advisor Reg Dickason, ECB managing director Hugh Morris and Professional Cricketers’ Association chief executive Sean Morris on Sunday night, convinced the players that it was safe to fly to Chennai from their Abu Dhabi base.
The meeting lasted an hour and a half, and, after being given 45 minutes to consider their decisions - during which time they phoned family and thought things over - all players confirmed their commitment to the team.
“That was probably the big one,” Flintoff said, of the factors mulled over. “We didn’t want to get into a position where the team was split up.
“One of the reasons I decided to go was for my team-mates. Throughout the one-day series in India, although we got beat the spirit in the camp was really good and that is something we didn’t want to lose.”
As the party flew to the southern Indian city in two separate groups, however, it became clear that it was not only safety and security fears that filled the players’ minds.
Questions were also raised in the meeting over how appropriate it was to return to the subcontinent so soon after the Mumbai terrorist attacks and whether the umbrella security placed over the tourists will create too alien an environment for a sports team to be successful.
“We have had our concerns as have everyone else,” Flintoff admitted. “But the one thing I wanted to do was get all the information I could and make an informed decision.
“I could not have done that until last night when we heard the security report and how that is going to take place.
“It has been a hard week, chatting to the lads, chatting to the family. It wasn’t just about security - it was a bit of everything.
“Obviously security concerns are what most people had. But is it the right time to be playing cricket? And the environment in which you will be playing in comes into it.
“There are a few things to consider but we obviously have full confidence in Reg and we decided to go and play the two Tests.”
In the aftermath of the meeting, which concluded with its positive conclusion at 10.50pm, Sean Morris praised Flintoff and close friend Steve Harmison for challenging the status quo.
But others also contributed to the debate on whether to recommence the seven-week trip which was temporarily aborted nine days ago.
“It was a decision which players had to come to on their own without trying to be influenced by other people,” Flintoff added. “The younger element of our team are very strong characters.
“They made their minds up, everyone voiced what they thought, their concerns and the plus points. Afterwards we went away to have a think about it.”
Now Kevin Pietersen’s team head into the unchartered territory of focusing for a Test flanked by top-level protection, having missed out on any form of practice match and warmed up with three days' practise in a different country.
“That was one things I had to get right in my mind as well,” said Flintoff, who, along with Paul Collingwood, toured India under blanket security in 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks.
“The environment which we are going to be playing in will be extremely different. Particularly with all these commandos and armed guards looking after us. That is going to be a challenge for us in a way.”
Former Australian policeman Dickason, meanwhile, is scheduled to carry out a similar security check on second Test venue Mohali in the next 72 hours.
But for now at least, attention can switch to on-field issues, namely competing against a side who have just thrashed them 5-0 in a one-day series and chalked up a rare Test campaign victory over Australia.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India side is arguably the best in the world on current form.
But Flintoff said: “The team is very keen to go and play cricket in India and we want to give a good account of ourselves.
“This might be something that brings the team closer and hopefully that can be reflected in results. I am going over there to try to win a Test series.
“We get a good reception from the Indian public every time we go over there because they’re knowledgeable about cricket and excited about the game.”