SPORTS LETTERS: Big is beautiful

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Big is beautiful

From Mr T Hallett

Sir: I knew that some day the excellent writings of Alan Watkins on rugby (12 March) would flush me out. Of course I am biased as the Chairman of Twickenham Redevelopment and now the RFU secretary. My dispute with him lies not in the word "spirit", with which we are wholly united, but on his perception that the effect a large stadium creates is neither magnificent nor conducive to spectator atmosphere.

I hope he had his decibel counter out for last Saturday, England v Ireland, when the noise could be heard as far as Cheltenham where some of the Irish were still counting their money. I believe he is a veritable traditionalist who enjoyed the "shed like" atmosphere of yesterday when spectator and player alike were given scant regard.

Twickenham holds in addition to its 75,000 spectators, a record safety undertaking allowing easy access and clear lines of vision, albeit from further back. Field glasses are permitted and so is singing.

Other attributes which add where the past did not are the bars, restaurants, shops, youth centre, museums and other places of pre-match worship, where so much atmosphere is generated, where so many friends can now enjoy the modern stadium where in the past these were denied.

I would like to invite Mr Watkins to a full tour of the Twickenham Experience culminating with lunch in either Obelensky's or Wakefield's restaurant. I will lay some money on him writing differently about Twickenham in the future after relishing its merits.

Yours sincerely


Secretary RFU

Sri Lanka deserved it

From Mr T Saul

Sir: As a long-standing supporter of Sri Lanka's cricket team, I should not crow about the victory in the World Cup, but I find the patronising tone adopted by TV commentators and newspapers (even including the Independent's leader) somewhat distasteful.

An untruth perpetrated in the media is that the Sri Lankan ascendancy has been unexpected and sudden. But remember when in 1984, three years after acceding to Test status, Sri Lanka played their first Lord's Test match. The opener Sidath Wettimuny hit 190, still the highest Test score for a debutant at Lord's, and England were saved from a hopeless position by rain. Since then, despite a few setbacks, Sri Lankan cricket has steadily gained in confidence. Wettimuny is now a selector for the world champions: despite the undeniable "internal bickering", there is continuity, and outgoing star players are quickly recycled into the administration. Compare England, where Ian Botham once ruefully commented that he was 20 years too young to be considered as a selector.

Beyond administration, there is the question of talent - if only England had 11 cricketers with half the natural ability of the Sri Lankans. The simple reason why English cricket is in long-term decline is that there are not enough players who are world class, while the Sri Lankans are well set to realise their stated goal of being dominant in world cricket by the turn of the century.

Then there is team spirit. Throughout the World Cup, teams which rely on one or two superstars have perished when the superstars have failed to perform. By contrast, the Sri Lankans are truly a team: their batting line-up is so powerful that two or three can fail and the side still score prodigiously.

Moreover, in a country beset by racist terrorism, the XI included a Tamil among the Sinhalese majority, and Muttiah Muralitharan was a vital part of his team.

Further, Sri Lanka won every game they played by a convincing margin. Every other team in the competition was defeated, and only South Africa were not defeated at least twice.

When, after the final, Aravinda de Silva picked up the man of the match award, Sanath Jayasuriya the "most valuable player" award, and Arjuna Ranatunga the World Cup itself, Sri Lanka's domination of the tournament was all-too obvious.

Yours, jubilantly failing the Tebbit test,


London SE26

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