Columnists 15.9.2016 01:29 pm

Letting the players decide was a balls-up

I’m probably the last person I have ever expected to utter the following words, but I really feel for the English cricketers.

On any given day I’ll be the first to poke fun at them after their customary World Cup flop and share the usual jokes, such as, what is the difference between England and a tea bag? (The bag stays in the cup for longer of course).

But the root of my sympathy has got nothing to do with cricketing matters, but rather off-the-field politics. England are scheduled to travel to Bangladesh at the end of September, but the tour has been in question ever since an attack on a cafe in Dhaka in July during which 18 of the 20 hostages who were killed were foreigners.

Following their own security inspection, England decided it was safe to take the tour, but gave each player the option to decide for himself whether he wanted to go or not, which led to captain Eoin Morgan and opener Alex Hales announcing at the weekend that they were not prepared to take the risk. Immediately England cricket chief Andrew Strauss replied with the following statement: “While we understand and respect Eoin and Alex’s decision, we are disappointed that they have made themselves unavailable for selection for the Bangladesh tour.”

Was Strauss not the guy who gave the players the option to excuse themselves – with no strings attached – from the tour? In my book, your choice of words are rather unfortunate, Andrew, old chap. You can’t give players options if you are not prepared for the consequences. Of course there will be disappointment – who doesn’t want their country’s one-day captain not to take his team on tour?

And when he does pull out after you’ve given him the choice, temper your disappointment over a cup of Earl Grey and don’t openly declare it to the world. Morgan has been witness to several accounts of violence in the subcontinent, of which one was a bomb exploding at the ground in Bangalore during the IPL in 2010. Honestly, what did Strauss expect from a guy carrying these mental scars?

Come to think of it, Morgan and Hales should have never been put in that position. Just compare Strauss and his cucumber sandwich-chomping lads over at Lord’s to their counterparts in Australia.

Not once, but twice now the Aussies have refused to tour Bangladesh over security concerns. The first was their senior side’s scheduled two-Test tour towards the end of last year, followed by their decision not to send a team to the Under-19 World Cup early this year.

Whether these were the right decisions or not we will never know, but the bottom line is the Australians never placed their own players in a Catch-22 position of having to decide for themselves. They are paid to play cricket and not to make security calls regarding their own safety.

That is what the cricket bosses are paid to do in turn. You either call off the tour, or go ahead without giving anybody a choice like you would on any given tour. But in order to do that, I guess Strauss will need to grow a pair first.

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