Trent Bridge fence allays Australian safety fears

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The Independent Online

Security measures never before seen at an English cricket ground will be deployed at Trent Bridge today after Australia demanded all possible steps be taken to guarantee the safety of their players following Sunday's pitch invasion by Pakistan supporters at Headingley, in which a steward suffered serious injuries after being knocked to the ground.

As Pakistan's players prepared for their second match against Australia in the NatWest Series yesterday evening, officials and security staff at the Nottingham venue were attempting to persuade the Australian captain, Steve Waugh, and their tour manager, John Bernard, that the day-night match could go ahead without the well-being of those taking part being put at risk.

Among international players, no one has been more outspoken than Waugh on the issue of player safety and, though he denied there had been any suggestion of his side refusing to play, it was clear he needed convincing that Nottingham would use tougher crowd control measures than were in place for England's match in Leeds, or at Edgbaston in the first match of the triangular tournament, the first between England and Pakistan, which also saw players forced to flee the field before the match had finished.

Bernard said: "We wanted to hear assurances that everything possible was being done to minimise the risk."

Fortunately for the 14,000 spectators who have bought tickets for tonight's match, the Nottinghamshire club's plans to mobilise some 350 stewards and 100 police and to erect a plastic mesh fence around the full 500-metre circumference of the ground was enough for the Australians to step back from using the ultimate sanction of withdrawing their team.

While impressed with this response, Waugh warned that he would not hesitate to take his players off the field at any hint of trouble. "If the crowd gets out of control we will be straight off and will not go back until it is sorted out," he said. "If we feel threatened or endangered I will let the umpires know the players feel uncomfortable and ask to come off."

Waugh has been at the centre of several frightening moments on cricket fields, most notably in the West Indies in April 1999, just before the World Cup in England, when he suffered whiplash injuries fleeing a pitch invasion in Guyana and was almost hit on the head by a bottle in a disturbance at Bridgetown, Barbados, when he said he had feared for his life.

"The players are concerned about about the general behaviour here," he said. "When we played Pakistan in Cardiff we saw a young English boy being belted up by a group of Pakistan supporters and no one did anything about that. Security was not good enough.

"Four years ago I said that security around the world was not good enough. Maybe it took something like Sunday's incident for something to happen."

Nottinghamshire have borrowed the mesh fence idea from rugby union, having seen the system used to prevent incursions at Twickenham. As the match nears a conclusion, and in the event of a perceived threat at other times, stewards around the boundary will manually lift the mesh barrier, which is fixed to the top of the advertising boards, and hold it above their heads, presenting a six-foot barrier to anyone intent on running on to the field.

While acknowledging that the mesh was not a solid, physical barrier, David Collier, Nottinghamshire's chief executive, said he felt confident this would at least act as a deterrent. "We could not erect a solid fence because of the recommendations that followed the Taylor Report," he said.

Collier will be among five people on the ground with the authority to order the mesh to be raised, along with match referee, Brian Hastings, the heads of both the police and ground security forces and Bernard.

Mobile teams of stewards ­ described by Collier as "SWAT squads" ­ will be used as reinforcements if parts of the ground are identified as troublespots.