Cricket World Cup: Tough task to turn the tide

Tony Cozier says a delicate touch can deflect the invasion force
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MOHAMMAD AZHARUDDIN wonders why players should be obliged to take off like so many Linford Christies as soon as the winning run is hit or wicket taken. Alistair Campbell calls it simply "a problem".

Steve Waugh warns of the inevitability of someone being killed. The stampedes at the end of almost every match have become as much a concern as the boomerangs disguised as white balls and the capricious pitches. The sprints back to the pavilion have been even more desperate than the quick single to get to the other end when Shoaib Ahktar is bowling.

Yet the phenomenon isn't new. Open any of the many World Cup guides and there will be photos of outfields filled with fans falling over themselves to back-slap their heroes or snatch a souvenir stump.

There was the invasion of the hallowed Lord's turf in the closing stages of the first, unforgettable final in 1975 by hundreds of joyous West Indians who mistakenly thought it was all over when Jeff Thomson was caught off a no-ball - and when his partner, Dennis Lillee, urged him to keep on running in the mayhem. There is the Oval, in 1983, and umpire David Constant using the stump in his right hand to ward off the bounty hunters. And Trent Bridge 1979 - and so on.

There were no captains' outcries then. Perhaps it was accepted as all part of the razzamatazz that goes with the World Cup, then in its infancy. That there should be now reflects an increased awareness of the potential danger to a cricketer's livelihood through an injury in such a melee.

Waugh's concern is intensified by first-hand experience during his recent tour to the Caribbean. And, to make his ultimate nightmare a reality it would only take one man, unhappy at losing a sizeable bet because of an umpiring decision or a poor stroke, to take out his frustration with a knife.

So what can be done? In India and Pakistan, where crowds are large and passionate, high fences separate the field from the stands. Policemen by the hundreds, with their energetically wielded bamboo lahtis, are effective deterrents to spectator incursions. In South Africa large, unfriendly dogs, with their large, unfriendly handlers, patrol the area between boundary ropes and advertising boards. In Australia the prospect of heavy fines, a night in a police cell and a lifetime ban from the ground in question have proved sufficient to keep the fans in their seats.

Bobbies with batons and barbed-wire barriers are as unlikely, and as unnecessary, on the cricket grounds of England as Alsatians and Dobermanns. The Australian way seems a more intelligent solution and will, no doubt, be introduced sooner rather than later.

One point above all was evident at Hove, where a couple of the Indian players were assaulted by a disgruntled supporter after their loss to South Africa; at Worcester, where some Scots apparently jostled a few Australians; and at every other ground where stewards have been as incapable of holding back the tide as Canute was.

It is that security is virtually impossible at small venues packed beyond capacity and unaccustomed to dealing with people from a different culture to whom cricket is more than just a game.

It is so with Indians and Pakistanis whose teams, separated in the preliminary group, now must meet in the forthcoming Super Sixes. In preparation the organisers would be advised to have a word with some football clubs, who know what it takes to separate safely zealous supporters from each other.

The softly, softly touch used, with some success, at Taunton during India's match against Sri Lanka might be tried again. There were repeated and reasoned pleas on the tannoy for spectators to keep off the playing area during the match.

However, Waugh, Azharuddin and the other captains probably have something a little more serious in mind when they speak about security.