If there is one steadfast rule in international sport, it is that every player will do anything and everything possible to keep their place on the team. Yet last week, England’s one-day cricket captain Eoin Morgan and opening batsman Alex Hales announced that they would not be taking part in the upcoming tour of Bangladesh for security reasons. This was despite an ECB-commissioned security report declaring the tour safe. Former England test captain Nasser Hussain wrote in his Daily Mail article that Morgan is “letting his side down” by not travelling to Bangladesh. So why would these players make a decision that could seriously jeopardise their future careers in an England shirt?
England is not the first team to have security concerns when travelling to Bangladesh. Australia pulled out of a tour of the country in 2015 and withdrew its U-19 team from the World Cup held there in early 2016. In these cases, it was Cricket Australia, the governing body of cricket in Australia, which withdrew the teams on security advice rather than individual players making the decision for themselves.
On announcing the cancellation of the 2015 Australian tour, CA chief executive James Sutherland said there was “reliable information to suggest that militants may [have been] planning to target Australian interests in Bangladesh.” This is markedly different from the situation surrounding the England tour. The major concern surrounding this series relates to the shooting in a Dhaka bakery in July, an attack claimed by IS, but there have been no reported direct threats towards the England cricket team.
Morgan, for his part, said at the start of the month that on previous tours security “once or twice became a distraction” and that he would never “put [him]self in that position again.” He also cites an incident in a 2010 IPL game at Bangalore when a bomb exploded in the stadium, as well as playing during civil unrest in Bangladesh during the 2014 presidential elections, as major factors in his decision to back out of the tour. Alex Hales, however, has remained silent on his reasons not to tour, at least in the public eye. It does seem an odd decision for him to sacrifice his place in the test team, since he is in no way assured of returning to the team in the tour to India which follows the Bangladesh series.
Hales’ position at the top of the order was under question whether he travelled or not, as he averaged only 28 for his 10 test matches in 2016. And his potential replacement is certainly no slouch. 19-year-old Hameed Hassan of Lancashire has scored four centuries this summer at an average of 54. If Hassan is selected and impresses in the two tests in Bangladesh, don’t put your money on a return to the opening slot for Hales.
So, what will become of Morgan? It would certainly be difficult to remove him permanently as one-day captain. BBC Cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew doesn’t “see how they could now sack him” after the ECB assured the players that “positions would not be compromised” regarding their individual choices on whether to tour. However, I believe that in not touring, Morgan has seriously weakened his position in the one-day side. He has averaged 30 in 15 matches in 2016 with a high score of 68 — hardly a record of the first name on the team sheet. Indeed, according to Hussain, “If Jos Buttler does well as captain or Ben Duckett [a potential replacement] comes into the side and smashes it around, Morgan may lose that cushion around his place.” At the end of the day, the captain has to be in the team, and if he’s not careful, Morgan may be superseded by a younger, more prolific player.
The selectors and the ECB may well be forced into a decision they did not want to make. The players’ decisions to withdraw have been supported by some of their teammates, including Jos Buttler, but have provided another issue for England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss. Are the players justified in their decision? I can understand their concerns, but I believe the security surrounding the tour to Bangladesh will be strong enough that the players will be safe to play their best cricket while in the country. The man behind the ECB report which confirmed the safety of the tour, Reg Dickason, is highly experienced in this area, and was crucial in pulling England out of a tour of India following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. I think it is foolish of Morgan and Hales to withdraw, especially Hales, since neither of the players are assured of their position following the tour (no matter what the ECB says).
At the end of the day, however, it is purely down to the players. If they do not feel comfortable travelling to Bangladesh, then they have every right to withdraw. They may later regret their decision, however, if they find their place irreparably filled by another.