The England cricketer Paul Collingwood dismissed reports last night that the Test team had been pressured into returning to India following the terrorist attacks. Team members flew into Abu Dhabi early yesterday before practising at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in preparation for a possible resumption of the Test series.
"No one's had their arm twisted behind their back to come here," said Collingwood. Senior members of the party, including Andrew Flintoff, the former captain, and the fast bowlers Steve Harmison and James Anderson, were rumoured to be unhappy with a return to India. Equipment belonging to the team was left behind after gunmen attacked the Taj Hotel in Mumbai where it was being stored. The team flew home last Saturday.
Collingwood added: "It is not an ideal situation but the facilities in Abu Dhabi are excellent and, all being well, all of us should be on the plane to India on Monday morning. "Being in the UAE is ideal for us and helps us acclimatise and this is the perfect way for us to do it." Collingwood admitted that there had been some soul-searching by players once they were back with their families. "Obviously everyone was in the same boat and we were in constant contact with each other and thinking about the situation.
"Every single person had concerns. But what we've got to do is get mentally attuned as players to the fact we are playing a Test match on Thursday." Hugh Morris, the England managing director, travelled straight to Chennai, where the first Test is being held, after accompanying the team to their Abu Dhabi base. He will assess security for the venue before returning over the weekend to reveal his findings to the players.
Sean Morris, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, has also been dispatched to the southern Indian city of Chennai to view the provisions put in place, pending a possible resumption of the pre-Christmas tour. Reg Dickason, the England security adviser, has spent the past few days back in India, having returned with the England and Wales Cricket Board's requests for player safety, and has inspected the MA Chidambaram stadium in the city.
The English entourage, including 10 members of the England performance squad, checked into their Abu Dhabi hotel at 4.15am yesterday. With time running short and the relocated first Test due to begin on Thursday, the team held an afternoon net session at the stadium just nine hours later. Collingwood was delighted to have the grass under his feet again. "Watching the events unfold on the television while we over there was horrific," he said. "I've stayed at the Taj Hotel and could relate to what I was seeing. I am sure once the Test match starts on Thursday, everything will be put to bed. We have to get focused on the job in hand."
England were scheduled to play a warm-up game in India ahead of the Test, but will have to make do with two net sessions and a warm-up game on Sunday involving most of the squad augmented by some local players. "It's not an ideal situation but we have to make the most of it. We've all got concerns for obvious reasons, but we've got to trust those in charge of the decisions to make them." Dilawar Mani, the president of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council, was delighted to host the England party, although saddened at the events that led to the unscheduled stopover.
"Recent events in India were horrific and we were all affected by them, but I just hope that cricket will not suffer as a result," he said. Abu Dhabi recently hosted the one-day series between Pakistan and the West Indies and is on standby to host the India-England series if the security reports are negative as well as next month's Pakistan-India Tests. With Dubai Sports City's purpose-built 25,000 capacity stadium due to open early next year and Sharjah already established as a venue, the UAE looks set to become a cricketing hub, especially since the International Cricket Council is now based in Dubai. "We in Abu Dhabi are hoping we are helping by doing our bit to help the tour continue, " Mr Mani said.
"The ICC has a spirit of cricket code and I feel if we live by its rules of integrity, fair play, honesty and teamwork, the world will be a better place. "There is talk of division in cricket, both politically and on other levels, and hopefully we in the UAE can help make a difference and help unify the game and help use it as a driving force to help things progress in a positive way." firstname.lastname@example.org