Pressure on Sri Lanka mounts

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Sri Lanka was fighting to retain its status as a World Cup host yesterday as the pressure mounted for the four games scheduled to be played on the island to be moved to the subcontinent.

The Australians repeated their refusal to play in Colombo next week,rejecting an offer from the Sri Lankan government to fly them in and out on the day of the match, and the West Indies, as expected, confirmed that they would refuse to play there should their request for the game to be rescheduled be turned down.

''It's unfortunate, really, because this is a match we want to play," Richie Richardson, the West Indies captain, said. "I think it would be unfair if it is cancelled. I think it should be re-scheduled and played somewhere else."

Diplomatic moves were being made to solve the problem. "The doors are still wide open for negotiations and we hope both Australia and the West Indies change their minds," Ana Punchihewa, the president of the Sri Lankan Board, said.

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the secretary of Pilcom, the organising committee, reiterated that the original schedule would stand. "Pilcom has taken a decision," he said. "The matches will be played according to schedule."

The game's ruling body, the International Council, entered the controversy for the first time yesterday. Sir Clyde Walcott, the council's chairman, said: "The ICC is extremely concerned. There are considerable efforts going on behind the scenes to find a solution."

The loss of two games involving two of the biggest draws would be almost as grievous a blow to the finances of the tournament as to its credibility. One official in Colombo raised the possibility that Sri Lanka would withdraw. "I wouldn't be surprised if the board says no to Kenya and Zimbabwe as well if Australia and West Indies say no to Sri Lanka. After all, the Aussies and West Indies mean a great deal more to Sri Lanka cricket than the other two teams".

Sri Lanka found one group of friends yesterday. "We would have loved to play in Colombo," Hansie Cronje, the South African captain, said. "We have been playing in this part of the world since 1991 and have always had very good tours."

England prepare, page 21