If injury concerns ruled all conversation on the field, it was security that created a buzz off it in Kolkata ahead of the second Test between India and Pakistan. The Taj Bengal hotel, the standard port of call for international teams in the city, was turned into a virtual fortress with police personnel making entry and exit almost impossible if you were not directly involved with the team.
Forty-eight hours before the game's scheduled start, nearly 5000 city policemen were involved in the protection of the two teams, a number that will increase manifold by Friday morning. In the wake of the e-mail threat directed at the Pakistan players, local authorities are taking no chances.
"It is the role of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to manage the security arrangements for our players," Ehsan Malik, the Pakistan media manager, said. "For the players and the team management it is their job to focus on the cricket."
It is inconceivable, though, that the players are not affected by the security blanket surrounding them. At the hotel electronic bag scanners check every article of luggage entering the premises. The two floors where the teams are housed have been fitted with door-frame metal detectors at the beginning and end of each corridor and other security measures include hand-held metal detectors, a round-the-clock bomb detection and defusal squad and patrolling by sniffer dogs. At the stadium, a police source confirmed, at least 40 closed-circuit cameras will installed before the start of the Test.
All player movement to and from the hotel has to be cleared by the police, who have appointed designated officers to look after each player and accompany them on any trips outside. Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly had to stop off at a hotel close to the ground to attend a product endorsement, and this was done with full police escort on the roads and in the hotel they visited. It is not clear what the situation will be if a player wants to leave the team hotel on his own, but it is learned that the players have been strongly advised against doing so.
The additional security arrangements have already caused problems for non-team members scheduled to stay at the Taj Bengal. Some team sponsors, who were booked to stay at the hotel for the duration of the Test, have been forced to find alternate accommodation, not an easy task to achieve in the last minute with a medical conference making available hotel rooms scarce in Kolkata.
Also, for the first time in recent memory, match officials have been moved out of the team hotel. It is customary practice for the umpires and match referee to stay with the teams, but this time the officials are being put up at the ITC Sonar Bangla hotel, a good distance away from the Eden Gardens. Do the security personnel think the match referee or one of the umpires poses a threat to the players?
That surely, is not the case, but when you speak to anyone involved with security, the common refrain is, "we're not taking any chances."