Inside the Bangladesh security bubble

02 November 2016

England batsman Joe Root walks past heavy security in Chittagong // Getty

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A first-hand account of the extreme security measures afforded to cricketers, media and fans on England's tour of Bangladesh

About the Writer:

Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.

England have left Bangladesh and a tour that was hanging in the balance after the terrorist attack in Dhaka last July has passed without incident.

For that we can thank Reg Dickason, the former Queensland policeman who is England's head of security and who was integral in ensuring a level of protection for a sporting team that went beyond anything he had seen in 20 years in the business.

Dickason, in tandem with the Bangladeshi authorities, erected a 'ring of steel' around the England team, visiting media and fans that effectively saw this tour operate on 'lockdown'.

The operation was huge, with up to 2,000 men involved in the convoys to and from the team hotel and grounds each day. Roads were shut, snipers were perched on rooftops and thousands of intrigued locals lined the streets watching this daily parade of heavily-protected foreigners.

Stuart Broad surrounded by security in Chittagong // Getty
Stuart Broad surrounded by security in Chittagong // Getty

I have lived in this bubble for the past three weeks and I'll admit after a few days of being intimidated by the sight of armed men watching my every move, it felt normal after that.

There were SWAT teams, armed police who resembled RoboCop, bandana-clad special forces battalions and just your ordinary rifle-toting police.

In Chittagong, where the first Test took place, we were accompanied by armed guards even for the brief 30-second walk from the hotel to the adjacent Chittagong Club, where the food and drinks were cheaper and better than in the team hotel. On one Saturday night when the club was overtaken by visiting fans, media and players the local police sent a patrol van of armed guards to sit outside. We were there in large numbers and we were a target.

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At the end of each day of England's warm-up game in the same city the media, who left before the players, were accompanied by 16 special forces troops. The MA Aziz Stadium, where the game was taking place, was a 10-second walk to the hotel. It was literally straight across the road.

Still, we were protected with traffic stopped to speed our path and the smiles of the armed police suggesting even they found the whole situation bizarre.

In Dhaka, as I went for a morning run in the grounds of the team hotel, there were around 50 men guarding the route. At one stage I almost bumped into a police officer casually holding his rifle and talking on his mobile phone.

When the security is so high, one half of you feels it is ridiculously over the top while the other wonders just what the authorities and Dickason know that you don't.

Australia postponed their tour of Bangladesh last year on security grounds after the Government advised of a specific threat to Australian interests in the country.

There is certainly hope here in Bangladesh that Australia and other teams from around the world will see how England toured here without trouble and follow their lead.

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A Cricket Australia spokesperson said: "We are still hopeful of touring Bangladesh in the near future but the safety of players and officials will always come first.

"We will continue to monitor advice from ASIO, DFAT and our own security advisors about the security risk for any future tours of the Australian team in Bangladesh and make a decision based on this advice closer to any potential tour."

On the field Bangladesh have proved they have a team capable of competing with the very best in the world both in one-day and Test cricket.

They would dearly love other teams to now visit and although the security can be stifling, England have proved it can be done.

A Bangladesh security guard stands guard over the England cricket team // Getty
A Bangladesh security guard stands guard over the England cricket team // Getty

Sean Carroll, Cricket Australia's Anti-Corruption and Security Manager, was in Dhaka this week assessing the situation ahead of a possible tour by Steve Smith's team here next August.

Carroll, staying in the England team hotel, experienced the security measures first hand, including the convoys, and chatted at length to Dickason.

Asked if he thought Australia would tour Bangladesh later this year, Dickason said: "They came and saw what you saw and the security that was provided for us.

"In 20 years I've been doing this, it's probably the most comprehensive security roll-out that I've seen. So it's pretty hard to beat, but I can't answer for them whether they're going to come or now.

"Sean Carroll their security manager spoke with me and I've shared our experiences with him. They're all very positive."

Rumours spread during the first Test in Chittagong that the England team had received specific threats from terrorists affiliated with the group who had killed 20 foreigners during the siege of the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in July. Dickason, though, said those rumours were not based on fact.

"There were some fairly significant events at the start of the tour with some people who were allegedly involved in the hold-out at the bakery being located, but there was no direct threat to our tour at all," he said.

Yet with such a heavy focus on security were the England players able to concentrate fully on cricket? "I think so," said Dickason. "When you enter a different environment, after two or three days it becomes the norm. The same with the convoys. They're huge convoys and when you get off the plane there's a huge security presence. But after a few days, it just becomes part of the landscape."

Eoin Morgan, England's one-day captain, cited the distraction of such a security presence as his reason for missing this tour. He was joined by opening batsman Alex Hales.

Despite briefing the entire squad at length before the players made their own decision to travel or not, Dickason has no hard feelings towards either Morgan or Hales.

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"I don't really know the reasons," said the Australian. "I know its security related but I don't know what the specific reasons were so I don't understand but they're entitled to make their own decisions. They're adults.

"They've got to do what they think is right. We had a team briefing that everyone attended, including the management. It wasn't a meeting to convince people. It was just to lay out the facts, which we did, and after that they went away individually and collectively I guess, discussed it and made the decision to either come or not."

All I can say to them is touring Bangladesh safely is do-able. Just don't expect it be a picnic.

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