'We felt like heads of state'

Paul Strang, the Zimbabwe bowler, describes the emotion of playing in Colombo
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The Independent Online
"WE were touring New Zealand when we heard that the bomb had gone off in Colombo and immediately there were doubts over whether we would come. At the time our manager was badly misquoted as saying we were from a country that knew all about war and wouldn't let a few bombs worry us. This was nonsense. Most of our team were very young during the Zimbabwe civil war and that was nothing like the situation in Sri Lanka. Personally bombs do worry me and I considered pulling out.

"The team were given the choice and we decided unanimously to come. To minimise the security risk we had to arrive the day before the game, the first to be played in the World Cup there, and leave early the day after it. As it was, our plane was eight hours late and we only arrived in the evening before the match. It left us no time to practice and even less time to get used to the debilitating climate.

"I had still been nervous flying in, but the minute we landed the security was incredible. We felt like heads of state at a UN summit. We bypassed immigration and were whisked to our hotel in a speeding armed convoy. Once in the hotel we couldn't leave, except for a short run in the evening watched over by armed guards, and of course the day of the game. The Sri Lankan team were in the same hotel and couldn't leave either.

"It becomes slightly claustrophobic. There were plain-clothes policemen everywhere so we felt completely safe, but we all wanted to see the city and walk around. It was strange being in this high-security because apart from police road-blocks and the security around us, you couldn't tell there was a war on.

"If we were going to be in any danger it would have been during the match, but by then we had put those fears out of our minds. Security at the ground was intense. They had stopped selling tickets two days before, there was a huge military cordon around the stadium and armed police inside.

"None of this, apart from the lack of acclimatisation, affected the way we approached the game. We came here to win but the cancelled matches already meant we had lost out in terms of the World Cup. The four points Sri Lanka were awarded basically took away our chances of going through. We have beaten Sri Lanka before and from the outset judged it would be between us and them for the last quarter-final place. But suddenly they had four points and were already in. If anything had a demoralising effect it was that, not fears for our safety.

"In the end our visit was good for cricket. The Sri Lankans were glad to have a game here and were grateful to us for coming. I wouldn't say they considered us brave because none of them thought there would be problems. But the crowd were on a high and cheered us as if it was our home game. There was palpable annoyance at the Australians and the West Indies. The crowd just seemed to think they were wimps. One banner I noticed read: 'Bombs in London. Ashes to be defended in Tahiti.'"

Interview by Douglas Rogers

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