Security drills were a regular feature of England’s tour of Bangladesh © STR/AFP
A patient crowd in Mirpur waits for “VIP movement” to pass through, beyond the barricade. This is the Dhaka term for a motorcade that is given high priority in traffic and the one that is about to pass through, the England cricket team convoy, is of the highest importance.
It starts with an advanced team of police packed in pick-up trucks, followed by similar vehicles containing a Rapid Action Battalion and then the convoy starts with a long line with two buses in the middle. It is followed by more armed security men and women, a couple of minibuses, and then a fire brigade truck to round off.
The convoy of about 10 to 12 different type of vehicles speeds through the emptied 8 km path from the Radisson hotel to the Shere Bangla National Stadium. The scene was similar in Chittagong where the roads at times were narrower than Dhaka’s.
The most convenient location, of course, was the 20 yards the players walked to cross the road from the Chittagong hotel to the MA Aziz Stadium for England’s practice matches. But the longest the convoy had to travel was from their Dhaka hotel to the Fatullah Cricket Stadium which was 25km cutting right through Dhaka’s main artery from north to south.
This was the scene for more than four weeks. Crowds waited patiently in front of every alleyway and street leading to the main road that connects the team hotel and stadium. It was inconvenient for hundreds of thousands of people, who were backlogged in various traffic jams linked to the convoy’s movement.
Security was the most critical end of the bargain for England touring Bangladesh, and it was settled in mid-August when the ECB gave the go-ahead for the tour after a comprehensive security inspection
If the adjudicators of the man-of-the-series award took a wider view of events leading up to England’s tour of Bangladesh, Mehedi Hasan and Ben Stokes would have found competition coming from Reg Dickason, the ECB’s director of security management. Although he says that it wasn’t his job to convince the England players to tour Bangladesh, it was Dickason’s iron-clad assurance that encouraged the ECB to give the green signal
“I didn’t have to convince them, it wasn’t my job” Dickason told ESPNcricinfo. “The awareness was heightened by the terrible attack on July 1. Where we travel throughout the world there’s potential for such an attack as is shown in Germany, Belgium and France. Bangladesh was no different. From our point of view, it didn’t really materially change the programme that we were going to put around the team.”
Reg Dickason was part of a security delegation © AFP
He said that Bangladesh’s track record of delivering security as promised helped in building trust for England’s tour.
“History of previous performance definitely comes into play. Everyone is always well intentioned. I think what we have to establish is the ability of the organisers to do what they have said. A lot of trust came from the U-19 World Cup.
“The main purpose of the risk assessment for the Under-19 World Cup was to see if the event was safe to go ahead, and we deemed that it was. We came out here to see what the BCB and the government was actually going to provide. It went very well. They did everything they said they were going to do,” said Dickason.
Like most places in Dhaka after the July 1 terrorist attack in Gulshan, the BCB headquarters in Mirpur came under heightened security. The following month, Dickason, ECB’s director of cricket operations John Carr and PCA chief executive David Leatherdale travelled to Bangladesh for the inspection.
“We met with the BCB and the local police, intelligence agencies, three overseas diplomatic missions and finally the Prime Minister. So based on what we were told and what we had witnessed in the U-19 World Cup, we had some degree of confidence we decided that this tour should go ahead and that was the recommendation,” said Dickason.
So on September 30, was Dickason nervous when the plane carrying the England players landed in Dhaka? “I wasn’t nervous but I am always concerned. I am conservative by nature. It is a fairly heavy responsibility with people’s safety.
“We got out just before the team. With the help of the BCB, we made sure things would be done exactly the way they said it would. It was done that way. In all of our tours we plan for worst, hope for the best – that’s the underlying methodology,” he said.
You can understand why a player might think the security issues would disrupt their focus. It’s not that there is any apparent hole in the cordon; it’s more that you can never escape a reminder of the need for it. When they open their curtains in the morning, they see armed police preventing cars from approaching the hotel. When they open their hotel door, they have armed police patrolling the landing. If they look up at training, they see a marksman on the roof of every adjacent building. The hotels are very good, but some of the players have been here a month and they aren’t allowed out. At every moment you are reminded: there have been threats; there is an issue. Focusing all your concentration on the ball at such moments might well be difficult.
The most remarkable aspect of this is the convoy. Every time the team (and accompanying media) need to go anywhere, the roads are cleared and closed, a cordon of several hundred police line the route to ensure pedestrians cannot approach and a convoy of buses, people carriers, fire trucks and heavily-armed swat teams drive as quickly as possible past bewildered – and presumably frustrated – onlookers.
The England convoy snakes through Dhaka © Getty Images
That’s not as easy as it sounds: some of the roads are poor and the speed bumps in these parts are viciously effective. So, in both Chittagong and Dhaka, there are moments when the convoy slows to a crawl. Those points on the journey are especially well patrolled by army and police personnel, with the swat team vehicles driving alongside the team bus to ensure that anyone trying to reach the players will have to go through them first.
The most dangerous it ever felt was when an over-zealous driver has struggled to stop. With no seat belts in the van, it is fair to say he gave the Test Match Special team – and your ESPNcricinfo correspondent – a bit of a wake-up.
Generally, though, it felt well organised and safe. And, once you try and venture out on your own (a 5kms journey took two hours in a taxi one night), you realise the benefits of the escort. England have been looked after exceptionally well.
Dickason observed that despite the heightened security provided in Bangladesh which he called “gold standard”, it would probably not be similar in other cricketing destinations.
“I don’t think it is a one-size fits all. Risk tolerance in different countries varies. I have been in international sport for 20 years and the road closures in Dhaka and Chittagong and the government input is as good as I have ever seen.
“I don’t know if this will be standard but it is certainly the gold standard at the moment. I don’t know if it will be rolled out in tours in places where the perception of risk and the actual risk is a little bit lower,” he said.
England staying in Bangladesh for the full tour has been a major boost for the BCB. A visit from Sean Carroll, Cricket Australia’s head of security, last week was the first sign that Australia are actively thinking of visiting Bangladesh next August.
“We have been very happy with the level of security. Each country will have their list of criteria. Sean Carroll is a very competent chap in his field. He is having a close look at things and will make a recommendation to his board,” said Dickason.
What has also been encouraging is the sensitivity shown by the touring side to the sacrifices made by the people who get caught up the convoy’s movement. “I think it is a sacrifice. We have probably inconvenienced them.
“Our players were very conscious of that, and we were always on time. If we were a minute late, it would inconvenience another hundred thousand people. The Bangladeshi people have been absolutely sensational,” he said.
There is little doubt that the tour basically saved Bangladesh from a long isolation of hosting international cricket. It would have deflated the general mood of the country further but now there is a bit more to look forward to. After all, they have just defeated England in a Test match. Even the unseasonal heat of November doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo