Walcott tries to engineerpeace

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The Independent Online
As officials of the International Cricket Council , the sport's governing body, arrived in Calcutta yesterday, Sri Lanka attempted to defuse the tension surrounding the threat of a World Cup boycott by saying it with flowers.

The refusal by Australia and the West Indies to play in Colombo after the bomb attack by Tamil separatists has left the tournament on a knife edge. And, as officials began last-minute talks behind closed doors in Calcutta, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, sent his Australian counterpart in Canberra a floral peace offering - dispatching "as large a bouquet as possible".

The only real hope of finding a compromise rests with 70-year-old Sir Clyde Walcott, the former West Indian batsman and chairman of the ICC. He arrived in Calcutta yesterday and went straight to a meeting on the crisis. If Walcott fails, Sri Lanka, co-hosts with Indian and Pakistan, will be virtually guaranteed a quarter-final place but in a devalued tournament.

Today's meeting between the three host countries and the nations playing in Sri Lanka has been expanded to include all the 12 participating countries. Sir Clyde will hope someone may give ground, but with Sri Lankan officials still adamant that matches scheduled for Colombo must not be staged elsewhere, the chairman sounded less than optimistic.

"I have a number of options in mind," was all Sir Clyde would say when asked whether he had devised a solution. Only Kenya and Zimbabwe have said they will honour their fixtures in the Sri Lanka.

Some might think the tournament is fated to fall apart. And there was more evidence yesterday to support the jinx theory when a floodlight pylon, being repositioned by workmen at Bombay's Wankhede Stadium -where India play Australia on 27 February - crashed on to the outfield, gouging a large hole.