Sport is both pointless and the most profound activity we can be engaged in. If war is diplomacy by other means, so is sport. And that is why the return of the England team to India must be seen in perspective.
To attempt to kick a round object between two wooden poles or a bunch of feathers over a net or use a piece of wood to strike a spherical leather object over some distance or hit a small dimpled round object into a hole in the ground from a few hundred yards might appear some of the most pointless things that man can do. Yet it is this very pointlessness that gives sport its allure. Sport is both pointless and the most profound activity we can be engaged in. If war is diplomacy by other means, so is sport. And that is why the return of the England team to India must be seen in perspective.
They could have stayed away, and everybody would have understood. The players could have decided that spending time with their families was a priority, and no one would have blamed them. They could have asked for - and probably got from both Boards - hardship allowance, and it might have been justified.
If media reports are to be believed, the ECB has not been shy of asking for such measures as a whole floor of the hotel for the players, security fit for a king or President, perhaps even a no-walk zone around a player which cannot be breached by fan or media without the case being taken to the international Court of Justice and so on. I exaggerate, but the ECB would have delighted in the sensation of being the ones to call the shots.
The point is, every concession made by the Indian Board is worth it if it ensures that the country does not fall off the international sporting map. Professional columnists have underlined the fact that the sportsmen are professionals who lap up the glamour and money that their calling provides, and now must realize that playing in a country threatened by terrorism is the other side of the coin - they must take the smooth with the rough. This is easily said, and there is a smidgeon of truth in it, but the final decision is an individual one and under pressure the classic English virtues of the stiff upper lip and the bulldog spirit have triumphed. Once more unto the breach, dear friendsÖ
The cynical will always point to the money - had the England players earned one million dollars each in the Stanford whatchamacallit in the West Indies, there is no telling how they would have reacted, for instance - but the fact remains that they are here when they need not have been. The reasons do not matter. These could be both noble and mercenary at the same time.
Skipper Kevin Pietersenís call to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the Indian people in their time of need might have lacked the poetry of Henry V's speech to his soldiers, but it was no vain boast, and India and the cricketing world must be grateful for that. In the larger scheme of things, cricket matters little, but without being part of normalcy, it can still be a catalyst to it.