Cricket World Cup: Players urged to contain passions

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD CUP ceases to be solely a cricket contest today. Concerned that the so-called Carnival of Cricket could become a violent adjunct to a war taking place some 5,000 miles away, the tournament organisers have prepared for the Super Six match between India and Pakistan at Old Trafford by mounting a security operation larger than any felt necessary for a cricket match in this country.

All 20,500 tickets have been sold for a match vital to both teams' hopes of progress but the Lancashire club admitted yesterday that they did not know what mix of spectators would turn up. "About 80 per cent [of the tickets] were sold before the tournament and I suspect a lot will have changed hands on the black market," Lancashire's chief executive, Jim Cumbes, said.

It has been left to Cumbes to oversee security arrangements, working with the Greater Manchester Police as well as Old Trafford's regular stewards, with input from the local Asian community, which has an even balance of Pakistani and Indian roots. Any match involving the two countries stirs great passion but this one comes against the backdrop of escalating military action over the disputed border territory of Kashmir.

"I think the hype has been overdone," Cumbes said. "None the less, every aspect of security has been addressed, from the threat of terrorism to public order problems. So far as we can tell, every loophole has been closed."

Closing every loophole has involved hiring more stewards than for any previous match at Old Trafford, most supplied by the company that handles crowd control for Manchester United. Matches between the sides are always highly charged, even if the participants are schoolboys, as Lord's discovered when the Under-15 World Championship final in 1996 witnessed fighting in the 8,000 crowd.

A percentage of today's stewards will be Asian, some responsible for checking the banners both sets of supporters favour. "We will not be saying `no banners or flags' but none that carry inflammatory messages, in whatever language, will be allowed," Cumbes said. Spectators will also be searched for potential weapons, bags checked for alcohol, closed-circuit cameras pointed at all sections of the ground and troublemakers liable to be "named and shamed" by local community leaders.

And it is not only those watching who will be under scrutiny. The match referee, Raman Subba Row, said that the players will be asked to make special efforts to set the right example by their behaviour. "It is not usual for the officials to speak to players before matches other than Tests, but we shall talk to both teams here, stressing the importance of their role," he said. "They are all good friends as cricketers and we have asked them to show that in the way they behave towards one another on the field, offering friendly greetings and handshakes."

Subba Row will be particularly keen to see Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan's fiery young pace bowler, behave. It was after a collision between Shoaib and Sachin Tendulkar that trouble erupted in Calcutta in February, when the first Test between the countries was completed in front of virtually an empty stadium after police ejected 50,000 spectators after a three- hour stoppage. Shoaib has incurred Subba Row's wrath once already in the tournament by engaging in a "shouting match" with Australia's captain, Steve Waugh, at Headingley. "Had he not apologised to Steve and to the umpires he would have been on the carpet," Subba Row said.

Both of today's captains, Mohammad Azharuddin and Wasim Akram, have appealed to supporters to remain calm and the Indian coach, Anshuman Gaekwad, indicated yesterday that Azharuddin, at least, would be prepared to address the crowd directly if asked. The former Pakistan captain, Imran Khan, present as a broadcaster, has said he too might act as a peacemaker.

Gaekwad confessed his team had been worried about their safety, especially at the end of the match. India's tournament began when Azharuddin was confronted by a drunk at Hove and even victory over England at Edgbaston was marred as Venkatesh Prasad was pushed and then carried from the field by over-enthusiastic fans.

"It was only over-keenness but no one likes to be pushed about and Prasad was upset by it," Gaekwad said. Even today there will be no way of preventing a crowd invasion but, according to Cumbes, stewards will "make sure players and officials reach the pavilion as quickly as possible".

By that time, one hopes, those present will have seen a fine match, even in the possible absence of Pakistan's Yousuf Youhana, who has a hamstring injury, and India's Saurav Ganguly, who is resting a sore right knee. The contest of India's glittering batting line-up against Pakistan's highly- skilled and varied bowling is a mouth-watering prospect, more so given that defeats in their opening Super Six games mean both sides need to win.

As Jim Cumbes said, somewhat wistfully: "Let's not lose sight of what we are here for, first and foremost, which is potentially a great cricket match."