Tiger pledge gives Sri Lanka hope

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The Independent Online
A FAINT hope that the deadlock over the cricket World Cup fixtures due to be played in Sri Lanka might be broken emerged last night when the Tamil Tigers said that they had no plans to disrupt the tournament. The opening ceremony will be held in Calcutta today.

A spokesman for the Paris-based Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam gave the assurance that: "We are not against foreigners or sports personalities. There is no threat at all."

The Tamil Tigers are blamed by the Sri Lankan government for the huge bomb in Colombo 11 days ago that left 83 dead and led to Australia and the West Indies refusing to play their scheduled Group A matches in the country.

A five-hour meeting yesterday that broke up before the Tigers' announcement failed to break the impasse that has grown up around the fixtures. The International Cricket Committee called together representatives of all 12 participating nations, but negotiations were thought to be delicate.

"They have started talking and we fear that there may be sparks and delays while coming to a decision," a senior member of the organising committee said.

After the meeting, David Richards, secretary of the committee, was positive, if guarded. "We have had a long, constructive and positive meeting. The talks will continue. We are trying to negotiate our way out of a difficult situation. All sorts of people are locked into all sorts of positions. I'm not saying anything more." He said that he expected there to be a decision this morning, "but I am not promising anything".

Pilcom, the joint Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan committee that is organising the tournament, is opposed to relocating Sri Lanka's matches against Australia and West Indies, due to be played on 17 and 24 February respectively in Colombo.

The Sri Lankan delegate to the ICC meeting, Ana Punchihewa, reiterated his government's commitment to ensure the safety of players while they are in Sri Lanka. "The teams can rest assured of top security. Let them define the security measures they need," he said.

Although the Tigers' announcement strikes a somewhat optimistic note, it is unlikely that the negotiations will be any less troubled when they recommence this morning.

Robin Smith should know by tomorrow night whether his World Cup dream is still alive. The 32-year-old Hampshire batsman has won a reprieve through his determination to recover from a groin injury, but the England chairman of selectors Ray Illingworth still has an open mind over whether Smith will be fit enough in time to avoid the need for a replacement.

"Robin is looking reasonably all right at the moment," Illingworth said after Smith had come through a light training session. "We'll give it until Monday night and then make a decision. The opinion seems to be that he should be fit in another week to 10 days and, if that is the case, it is good enough."

England will not know for sure until tomorrow whether Smith could be replaced even if they wanted him to be when a pre-tournament briefing should clarify the situation.

Smith's second and almost certainly last World Cup campaign appeared to be over before it had begun, when he pulled a muscle while diving to hold a spectacular catch during Wednesday's practice match in Lahore. Since then, however, he has followed the physiotherapist Wayne Morton's instructions to the letter - even getting up two or three times a night to put ice on the injury.

Smith could lose out, of course, and England have a couple of possible replacements in mind. Mark Ramprakash is one and Nasser Hussain almost certainly the other, though he could be ruled out as he was not in the initial squad of 18 players submitted to World Cup organisers.

Dominic Cork, meanwhile, should be fit in time to face New Zealand after another injury scare. His knee problem is reported to have almost cleared up.

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