Doubts and insecurities just around the corner

This may be bad news for United Cricket Board officials and administrators, but Graeme Smith’s squad may be about to hit their first snag in England. They remain tightly knit as a unit, they are happy and they are confident. But there are some massive doubts and insecurities just around the corner.

The good news is that they do not concern the tour of England, and least of all the fifth and decisive Test at the Oval next week. The bad news, however, is that they could cause divisions, anxieties and doubts serious enough to affect performances during that match.

A mere nine days after they are due to return to South Africa, most of this squad will be required to board a plane to Pakistan. The vast majority are very, very reluctant. It is not an exaggeration to say that some are feeling desperate. Furthermore, some have said they will not go.

The television pictures of a bomb blast in Mumbai were shocking enough in their own right. The fact that the blast took place just metres away from the Taj Hotel where most of the players have stayed at some point in their careers tripled the impact. And the fact that India is supposedly ‘at peace’ as opposed to Pakistan which is riven with internal strife doubled the impact again.

One of the Tests on the Pakistan itinerary is due to be played in Peshawar, just a few kilometres from the Afghanistan border. On the last tour, in 1997, I saw the lawlessness that prevailed then. And so did many of these players. The thought of returning to the city that was the easiest point of refuge for Taliban fighters under siege from American special forces is, frankly, somewhere between very unappealing and terrifying.

The subject of the Pakistan tour is still being ‘monitored’ by the UCB. It is to be greatly hoped they have the courage to make their own decisions and not to be dictated to by government ministers seeking political goodwill, as they have done in recent seasons. But for the sake of this series, it is to be hoped they can reassure Graeme Smith’s players here in England.

Tension is clearly mounting. Quickly.

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