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What now for India and England?

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Mihir Bose | 17:07 UK time, Friday, 28 November 2008

The first response to terrorism has always been that those who commit evil must not deflect us from pursuing our normal way of life.

Nobody can deny the horrors that have unfolded in Mumbai. It is a city I shall always call Bombay and the one where I grew up. For me to witness the events of the last few days on television in places I have known so well has been heartbreaking.

I could not see the pictures of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel without thinking of the Sea Lounge, where I spent so much of my teenage years gazing out to the Arabian Sea while consuming pineapple cake and sweet lime and soda - a great drink in a hot country.

The question is do these dastardly attacks justify calling off a cricket tour? And if the answer is yes, what does it say about our attitude to terrorism?

Or does it perhaps say something about our attitude to countries such as India?

Is it possible that those who are calling for the tour to be called off are really proposing different standards for different parts of the world?

The events in Mumbai have been compared to New York's 11 September 2001 and London 7 July 2005. When 7/7 happened, the Australians were touring England. And remember 7/7 was followed by 21/7, the second, but fortunately failed, terrorist attack on London.

The same day England were playing Australia in the first Ashes Test at Lord's in a series that has gone down in history.

The following day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead not far from the Oval.

Can you imagine the reaction if Australian cricketers had said they were going home because London was not safe?

Recall the disgust expressed by some, when after 9/11, America's golfers refused to fly to Europe for the Ryder Cup, causing the historic event to be rescheduled.

So are the horrors in Mumbai different?

The terrorists in Mumbai were hunting down British and American passport holders. Asking cricketers to return against that background, it can be argued, might be putting their lives at unacceptable risk.

But the fact is that ever since the Iraq invasion, westerners have been at risk in many countries. If that was the criteria by which we judged things then foreign travel of almost any kind would be impossible.

India has not been immune to terrorism and it is worth noting that in the midst of the Indian Premier League (IPL) series earlier this year bombs went off in Jaipur. Just a day later the Rajasthan Royals, captained by Shane Warne, played a match in the city.

I am well aware that Indian cricket bosses have their own particular cricketing agenda.

India, the established economic powerhouse of cricket, seem to have discovered a team that can convert the millions their cricketers earn into a winning formula on the field.

Indian cricketers, so often underachievers, may at last be realising the country's immense potential.

And in the IPL, India has discovered a winning domestic cricket formula - in no other country does domestic cricket thrive in this way.

England captain Kevin Pietersen leaves the team hotel

What is more the proposed Champions League may prove to be cricket's equivalent of football's Uefa Champions League, which attracts millions of spectators and millions of dollars.

If at this potential moment of triumph Indian cricket becomes a no-go area for foreigners, much as Pakistan cricket has, it would not only damage Indian cricket but world cricket.

Suddenly the economic powerhouse of the game would not be able to play the game in its own backyard. The consequences of that for world cricket would be immense.

However, it is not merely on grounds of economics that Indians want the cricket to continue.

India is a vast country. Mumbai may be out of bounds for some time but even as the events were unfolding, England's cricketers were 850 miles away, very nearly the distance between London and Rome. It should be possible to move the Tests to places far from Mumbai.

Also Indians are great optimists and have a record of surviving all sorts of things.

As one of India's greatest writers R K Narayan told V S Naipaul: "Whatever happens India will survive."

I have been struck by this optimistic mood in the aftermath of the attacks.

I still have many of my school friends in the city and it was interesting to hear their reactions. Their response was similar to the spirit Londoners displayed during the Blitz. One of them was dining near Mumbai's railway station. They heard of the attack, waited in their restaurant and finally at 3am got home in a convoy.

I spoke to one of my oldest school friends less than 24 hours after the attacks. I got hold of him as he walking along Marine Drive. It is a walk I had often taken in his company when we were both at school. Now he was not far away from the Oberoi Hotel, another of the siege hotels. He described the scene to me and as I expressed anxiety he said: "We Indians are great optimists. We shall come out of this, do not worry, And I do hope the English cricketers do not abandon this tour. Apart from India's bowling what do they have to fear? We cope with it, why can't they?"

I hope for his sake and millions of Indians England do go back.

Of course, some English cricketers may not want to, and that is entirely their prerogative. In such cases, just as with England's tour to India in 2001, individual cricketers should be given an opt-out.

But if proper assurances over security can be given, I would like to see the team return.

India has its problems, immense problems. But it is not ungovernable. And it is possible to play cricket in this huge country away from the trouble.


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