Security XI fend off protesters' fresh attack

When England's opening batsmen Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick stepped out on to the re-laid outfield on the first day of the first Test here yesterday they found themselves confronted by not one but two XIs.

One of them they expected to see: that was their official opponents, Zimbabwe. The other was less orthodox: a Security XI, there to guard the square.

The decision to allow Zimbabwe's tour of these shores to go ahead - particularly in the light of England's boycott of a World Cup match in Harare earlier this year - had been expected to draw protests from those opposed to Robert Mugabe's regime in the African country.

On a rain-interrupted day which saw England reach 184 for 3, the Marylebone Cricket Club increased its security staff by around 50 per cent and they were all on alert from the moment the Grace Gates opened, outside which the bulk of the protesters were to be found. All the stewards were prominent too as they nervously awaited whatever was to befall.

In the end, not much did happen, although all the extra security measures taken by the MCC still did not prevent what disruptions to play there were. A handful of members of the Stop The Tour campaign, those who were not in a well-policed, cordoned off area outside the ground did manage to encroach upon the playing area.

Not that the interruptions affected the players unduly. A spokesman for the Zimbabweans said: "The players did not feel physically threatened, but they were disappointed that people were still able to gain access to the playing area."

They were not the only ones who felt let down. Roger Knight, the MCC secretary and chief executive, said: "I am pleased with the players' ability to get on with the cricket with minimal disruption, but it's disappointing that people still got on the field."

Only last summer there was another solo pitch invader when India were playing. The trespasser, a member of the MCC, gained access to the outfield and was able to walk right up to Sachin Tendulkar at the fall of the India batsman's wicket before any of the security guards grasped what was happening.

On that occasion the incident was handled without fuss. And that was the case yesterday. Both protesters walked on, displayed their placards, then allowed themselves to be walked off without resistance.

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