Irrespective of the time, it’s difficult to find the streets of Dhaka empty. Unless you manage to stay awake through the wee hours when the traffic thins a little only to burst at its seams by 7 am.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic is a reality in Dhaka, especially on the road from Sonargaon hotel to the Mirpur Stadium. The only time this particular route is completely empty is when the cricket team travels from the hotel to Mirpur.
Roads are sanitised well before the team gathers at the hotel lounge. Police patrol cars block all intersections before the rest of the impressive entourage of cars and motorcycles escort the bulletproof team bus. Sometimes the bystanders don’t even realise that the bus they are waving at is actually a decoy.
That is not all. At the ground they have snipers, along with the close protection offered by the cops. And there are times when the silence during training sessions is shattered by the sound of a helicopter on a vigilance round.
Now, compare this with a tour of the West Indies. The team bus is no grander than the ones that take senior citizens on city trips. There are hardly two or three plain-clothed security personnel inside the bus. Outside, the dressing rooms there would be two plain-clothed cops, one with a shot gun and the other with an automatic rifle. In West Indies, you can loiter in front of the dressing room, sit close to the training nets, wander into the ground and take a look at the pitch and even exchange pleasantries with the players.
At the hotel in Port of Spain or Kingston, no one will suspect if you manage to reach the floor where the players are staying. Even the cricketers don’t hesitate from going out alone or with friends for a cosy dinner or a quick bite.
That’s a strict no-no in subcontinent countries. In Dhaka, there are at least two senior police officers — if not more — stationed in the lounge to ensure no one comes too close to a player. They check out credentials of journalists waiting in the restaurant or the reception area before gently reminding them not to do anything that threatens the security of players. It’s a ritual we are familiar with in this part of the world because the perception of threat in the subcontinent is very different from the rest of the world.
But is it really that different? During the Lindt Café hostage crisis in Sydney in December 2014, there were talks of providing additional security to the touring Indian team. But that question never arises in India or Bangladesh because visiting teams are already accorded the highest level of security, equivalent to the one provided to the President or the Prime Minister.
Yet there is always a doubt cast on the security cover whenever England or Australia come calling. England at least convinced most of the players to tour Bangladesh. Australia didn’t even do that last year. And this was well before the Holey Artisan Bakery incident.
The July 7 London bombings in 2005 had come a day after the city had bagged the rights to host the 2012 Olympics. The touring Australian team was to reach London from Leeds the next day. None of the Australians backed out of the tour.
That proved how threat perception varies from country to country. But nowadays terrorism really doesn’t know boundaries. Anyone living in Paris is as susceptible to a terrorist attack as someone living in Dhaka. And terrorists usually pick on the unsuspecting common people because it’s easier that way. Cricketers, especially post the Lahore attacks in 2009, are as cocooned in security detail as heads of states.
Of course, neither Alex Hales nor Eoin Morgan should be judged for what must have been a very difficult and personal decision. Especially for Morgan, who is one of the very few English players to have consistently played in the Indian Premier League.
He is as aware of the cultural difference as the security arrangement provided to cricketers. The IPL, by the way, is held almost every year amid terrorist attack threats to several Indian metros. Bangladesh’s security arrangements are similar to India but perhaps it doesn’t instill much confidence.
You can’t find fault with someone who doesn’t want to take a chance with that. But would he have done the same had it not been a subcontinent country? That is a difficult and somewhat awkward question.