England stars must think again about playing in the IPL

No matter how much security you have nothing is 100%, says former England coach

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A bullet hole is seen on a window of a bus, which was carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team Photograph: MOHSIN RAZA/REUTERS

Less than four years ago I was part of the England tour party to Pakistan that came in for criticism from sections of the media for going overboard on security. But if yesterday's events in Lahore showed us anything, it's that you can never be too careful. The most ridiculous claim I heard back then was that terrorists would never attack cricketers because it was Pakistan's national game. But scruples don't come into it. In the world of the terrorist, everyone is a potential target: women, children and most definitely high-profile international sportsmen.

If I were one of the England guys who signed up for the Indian Premier League, I would be concerned. And before you think I'm just lumping the subcontinental countries together, let me explain. There were times on that tour of Pakistan when the security was at a presidential level – with the exception of Karachi, they cleared roads for us on the way to stadiums and lined them with armed guards.

Although you still felt nervous as you watched the world go by and kept an eye out for possible trouble, it provided some comfort at least. Nothing is 100%, but you sure as hell want that percentage to be as high as possible in your favour.

India is different. The traffic is often so bad in the big cities where a lot of the cricket is played that the coach can move along only slowly at times, which turns it into a sitting duck for terrorists. There's nothing stopping a tuk-tuk pulling up alongside and detonating a bomb. I would be very nervous because that kind of attack is much easier to carry out in India – and these guys can attack when they like. I wrote in this column after the Mumbai atrocities in November that the immediate aftermath of an attack can be the safest time to travel, but the further away you get from the previous attack the more nervy things become.

Security operations can also become more complacent. When we were in Pakistan, we began the tour by having three vehicles accompany us on our way to stadiums. But by the end, three had become one. It is vital for the continuation of cricket in parts of the subcontinent that serious investment is made into security.

I don't want to sound too melodramatic but these terrorists operate as if they are in a war. They will have targets and plans and I wouldn't be surprised if the England team were mentioned in dispatches in 2005-06. I've sometimes wondered how lucky we were not to have been targeted. I even noticed on the news coverage yesterday that one of the terrorists in Lahore must have been carrying an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] launcher. I know from doing my military service in the former Rhodesian air force that one of those can take out anything in its path, including a coach.

It seems the Sri Lankan bus actually took a different route to the Gaddafi Stadium yesterday morning because of information received. But all you can really do in those circumstances is give yourself the best chance, and that means as much security as possible.

It's important to have your own security personnel to take charge out on the streets and organise strategy based on their previous experience in these situations, and it's crucial to have one of them sitting at the front of the team bus to react immediately and try to protect the driver. The guy driving the match officials in the bus behind the Sri Lankan team was killed yesterday and if that happens everyone else becomes extra vulnerable.

From a purely cricketing point of view, what has happened is tragic for the people of Pakistan, because so many good players have emerged from that country, where the talent base is fantastic. This was their first Test series for 14 months but if sides were worried about touring Pakistan before those gunmen fired on the Sri Lankan team bus, they will be adamant now: cricket simply cannot take place there. In fact, it's hard to see how they can give it the all-clear in the future at all.

Sure, security can be beefed up, but there are no guarantees at all. And even if players were assured of a safe passage on the roads, there are always two vulnerable parts to any journey: entering and leaving your hotel, and entering and leaving the ground.

The attacks in Mumbai called into question even the safety of the best hotels. What cricketer is going to start thinking about runs and wickets when there are these more serious matters to consider? These are vulnerable times, and extremely sad ones too.


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Cricket: Former England coach Duncan Fletcher says a Lahore-style attack could be made just as easily in India

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 01.58 GMT on Wednesday 4 March 2009. It appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday 4 March 2009 on p7 of the News & features section. It was last updated at 01.59 GMT on Wednesday 4 March 2009.

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