Fireworks force Australia off the field

Waugh takes team into dressing-room after crowd trouble but leads them back out to battle on in losing cause
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The Independent Online

English cricket's growing crowd control problem took another unwelcome turn last night when Australia's captain, Steve Waugh, led his players off the field after the fast bowler Brett Lee claimed a firework exploded close to him during the NatWest Series day-night match here against Pakistan, which ended in another pitch invasion.

Pakistan won by 36 runs after their captain, Waqar Younis, took 6 for 59 and despite a massive security operation involving almost 500 stewards and police there was a repetition of last Sunday's pitch invasion at Headingley, when a steward was seriously injured following Pakistan's win over England.

Last night, the use of a flexible three-foot plastic mesh fence ­ held by stewards facing the crowd ­ delayed the swarms of celebrating Pakistan fans long enough for the players to leave the field safely but advertising boards were knocked over and stumps stolen in the moments that followed, with fireworks let off on the field despite appeals over the public address system.

There were no early reports of casualties but with more end-of-match mayhem following Waugh's decision to take his players off during Pakistan's innings there will be more pressure on the authorities to give greater protection to players.

Lee was fielding a short distance inside the boundary adjacent to a large number of Pakistan supporters when the incident occurred, shortly before the scheduled break between innings, at the same time as a series of firecrackers went off at the other side of the Nottingham ground, almost directly beneath the police control centre in the William Clarke stand.

The Australian fast bowler, who was unhurt, immediately informed Waugh, who had warned ahead of the match that he would take his players off if he considered their safety to be at risk.

Although the incident in the William Clarke stand appeared to be more serious, with spectators forced to take avoiding action as sparks flew around their feet, what appeared to be the remains of a discharged firework was visible between the boundary rope and the advertising boards, close to Lee's fielding position. Within moments, Waugh told the umpires, George Sharp and Neil Mallender, of his intention to lead his team off and the Australians left the field, with the match held up for 20 minutes before the final five overs of the Pakistan innings could be bowled.

David Collier, Nottinghamshire's chief executive and one of five people on the ground overseeing security, described the object that landed near Lee as a cardboard canister but the player himself was adamant a firework had exploded near him.

Steve Bernard, the Australian tour manager, said: "There was a firework and Brett said it was live. It was difficult for him to feel comfortable fielding down there and so Steve [Waugh] decided to take the players off, as he said he would if he believed their safety was threatened.

"A meeting then took place with the match referee and the team management and after assurances were given that security would be stepped up in the areas of the ground where the fireworks had gone off we agreed to resume the match. We said that if another firework went off the players would come off again and the innings would not be completed."

No arrests were made as a result of the firework incidents but announcements were made over the public address in both English and Urdu, explaining why play had been suspended and warning spectators to remain in their seats and not to ignite any further fireworks, several of which had gone off earlier as Pakistan progressed towards a total of 290 for 9 from their 50 overs in front of a 14,000 sell-out crowd. A substantial number demonstrated their allegiance to Pakistan by waving flags, sounding whistles and klaxons continuously, a police spokesman described the atmosphere at that stage as "relatively good natured".

The after-match presentations were scheduled to take place inside the pavilion rather than on the balcony in the hope that spectators would have no reason to gather outside.

Bernard said the Australians had been satisfied with the efforts of Nottinghamshire staff to minimise the risk to players during the match, even though fireworks had been brought into the stadium in spite of bag searches on the gates.

Speaking before the fireworks were let off, Richard Caborn, the new sports minister, had said that the Government would oppose any measures that would change the "traditional atmosphere" on English grounds.

Caborn, who came here to see the crowd control tactics being employed, dismissed as "Draconian" suggestions by Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, that stewards with "snarling dogs" should be deployed to prevent scenes such as were witnessed at Headingley on Sunday.

"I would hope that we don't have to move down that course of dogs and high wire fences to see a game of cricket in England," he said.

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