Cricket - World Cup: Australians in threat to walk out

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WORLD CUP organisers last night admitted they had not foreseen the scale of crowd invasions that have disrupted the finishes of some matches and prompted fears over player safety.

Several games have ended in chaotic scenes, with hundreds of spectators swarming on to the playing area and security staff forced in desperation to shield the players attempting to leave the field. The latest incident followed Australia's match against Pakistan at Headingley on Sunday, when rampaging fans seized stumps even before the game had ended and players then found their route to the dressing-rooms blocked.

The episode raised a threat that Australia might withdraw from the World Cup after incidents at all three of their group matches, and has prompted the organisers to ask if the legislation that has outlawed pitch invasions at football can be extended urgently to cricket.

The possibility of an Australian boycott was mooted by the former Test bowler Tim May, the president of the Australian Cricketers' Association, who described security measures at the World Cup as "totally and absolutely irresponsible", and suggested Steve Waugh's team were considering pulling out of the tournament.

"The security is more than disappointing. It's bordering on disgraceful," May said. "It's out of control, so all the players can do is say: `OK, we're not going to participate'."

Michael Browning, the World Cup's events manager, last night dismissed May's comments as "conjecture", but admitted the scale of the problem had taken security planners by surprise.

"It was always envisaged that people would come on at the end of the game," Browning said. "What I don't think could have been foreseen was the enthusiasm of the crowd reaction.

"I don't believe there is any malicious intent on the part of these people but I can sympathise with the players. I would feel nervous were I out there in the middle with hundreds of people rushing on to the field.

"Obviously we are concerned that there are no accidents but I don't think there is a real threat to the players. Running on the field is part of the culture here, almost encouraged when there is to be a presentation after the game and it is all largely good natured."

None the less, the Australian captain, Waugh, has felt obliged to complain twice, first about Scotland supporters jostling his players after their opening match at Worcester and then when the cap of his brother, Mark, was stolen in the pandemonium that followed Australia's defeat to New Zealand at Cardiff.

After the Worcester match, Steve Waugh admitted he was worried about a repetition of the incident during Australia's recent tour of the West Indies when a one-day international in Guyana had to be ended early because of a crowd invasion, after which Waugh had said he feared for his life.

The Australian manager, Steve Bernard, said last night that a World Cup boycott "had not been discussed" within the team, but confirmed that the security issue remained a concern following Sunday's match.

"We have been in contact with the World Cup organisers because we do not believe the players should have these safety concerns," he said. "We believe that the field belongs to the players, not the spectators. The spectators have the stands and should stay there.

"It does not happen in Australia because it is against the law to encroach on the field and anyone who does can be fined around pounds 2,500. It seems to be an effective deterrent."

Whether such legislation could be introduced to prevent further disorder at the World Cup remains to be seen, but Browning said that the possibility was being looked at.

"We have asked Tim Hollis, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who has been working with us throughout, to contact the Home Office on our behalf to see if that legislation can be extended by decree to the remainder of the tournament.

"I have every sympathy with Steve Waugh's sentiments, especially after his experience in the West Indies. The players have a right to feel safe on the field. At the moment, there is not a lot that can be done when people run on to the field in such numbers. But if spectators faced arrest and a substantial fine I don't think they would do it. People in this country tend to be fairly law-abiding."

Browning expected to have a reply from the Home Office "by today", but said that security would be discussed before the Super Six stage begins on Friday, when all matches would be played in Test grounds. "The arrangements have been two years in the planning," he said, "and overall I think they have been appropriate and adequate. But security is a matter under constant review."