Surrey's human shield against invaders

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The Independent Online

Surrey, hosts for the second of England's three NatWest Challenge matches against Pakistan, will ask stewards at the Oval to act as a human shield tomorrow as they attempt to avoid scenes similar to those which followed Tuesday's game at Old Trafford. At the conclusion of Pakistan's thrilling last-over win in Manchester several hundred of their supporters raced on to the ground to celebrate the victory.

Such scenes used to be the norm at the end of major matches in this country but it is now the type of incident that the England and Wales Cricket Board is eager to avoid. This follows several unwelcome pitch invasions during Pakistan's last tour of England in 2001, one of which, at Headingley, led to a match being abandoned and Pakistan winning by default.

"We will have an obtrusive presence of stewards at the Oval," said Paul Sheldon, the Chief Executive of Surrey, when describing the measures his club are taking. "There will be 370 who will form a complete ring around the perimeter for the last 20 or so minutes of play. We are determined to ensure maximum safety for the players, officials and spectators. Since the regulations about pitch invasions changed we have succeeded in stopping any spectator coming on to the field by using this policy."

The sight of such heavy security at cricket grounds creates an image the game wants to avoid if it can and one cannot help but feel that the ECB appears to be over-reacting to the exuberant celebrations of Tuesday evening. Nobody wants a situation where a player or official is injured at the end of a game and it is unlikely to happen because those who ran on to the field at Old Trafford had no intention of causing anybody harm. Their behaviour was an understandable reaction to an excellent day's entertainment. And in many ways it was the noise and excitement created by Pakistan's supporters which made the occasion so memorable.

The fervent state into which the crowd develops during a game is not just a result of the cricket. The marketing and entertainment which the ECB uses also revs things up. When advertising cricket the ECB and television companies quite rightly show images of players and spectators in animated poses because there is no better sight than a sportsman combining passion with skill.

At Old Trafford the ECB also used Mark Little, the Australian comedian who once played Joe Mangle in the soap Neighbours - - to whip everyone up into a frenzy during the break between innings. During play "Beautiful Day" by U2 rang around the ground after every boundary and Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town" greeting each Pakistan batsman's arrival in the middle.

Such noise may not be welcomed universally but it does add to the day. As does the presence of the Pakistan supporters, who should be encouraged to attend matches, not pilloried for their behaviour.