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June 18, 2001
It was only a few days ago that a headline like that was confined to events of a purely cricketing nature, such as when England reached an all-time low by being bowled out for just 84 by Australia at Old Trafford to lose a match in the NatWest Series. What happened at Headingley on Sunday represented an entirely different situation. Cricket was secondary to the pitch invasion by over-excited elements of the crowd. That resulted in England captain Alec Stewart conceding the game to Pakistan and a steward being taken off to hospital having become the victim of the unruly mob.
There was no doubting that Pakistan would have deservedly won. There were 10.1 overs to be bowled, six wickets in hand and only four runs to be scored when a large section of the crowd burst over the boundary rope as if the game had finished. Such was the scale of the pitch invasion, and with a steward lying near the wicket with internal and head injuries, the game had to be regarded as finished. Rather than going out again when the pitch was eventually cleared, Stewart decided that England would accept the inevitable and so the unique entry in the record books: "England conceded the match."
Stewart said "It was a sad decision but it was a decision I felt was right for the long term good of the game. For the sake of the players and the umpires, I felt it was the only decision I could make. Hopefully it will mean that we won't see scenes like that again and the ICC will now take very, very strong measures to make sure it doesn't happen again."
John Read, the Director of Corporate Affairs of the England and Wales Cricket Board, acknowledged the gravity of the affair. "It was an incredibly sad day for cricket in this country and we condemn unreservedly what happened," he said. "We're resolved to ensure that the grounds are as safe an environment as possible for the players, spectators and umpires and that these sort of things don't happen in the future."
But what can be done? Heavy fines, like those imposed in Australia for similar behaviour? Extra security, with snarling dogs as seen in South Africa? Fences, as used in Asia? None are usually necessary in England, but there is a dilemma for the authorities. Both crowd invasions in this series have involved predominantly Pakistani supporters, yet most are British citizens. Unlike when there is crowd trouble at football, it is not easy to identify a target for sanctions and punishment.
The decision to concede the match was a brave one, and seemed correct at the time it was made. However, it could prove to be a dangerous precedent. It might send the wrong signals to those who seek to affect the outcome of a match. The game at Headingley was as good as over and meant little anyway. It would not be the same in, for example, a tense match that could have implications on qualification for the final stages of a world cup. It should not be up to either captain to concede. There is no provision for that in the regulations and nor should there be. In such circumstances the ICC should have the powers to determine the outcome, including abandoning the match as was threatened at Edgbaston.
The scenes there might have been excused a merely exuberant enthusiasm. Perhaps over-exuberant, but nonetheless borne of high spirits. So too, essentially, were those at Headingley, but this time a steward was seriously injured. Next time, someone might be killed. The warnings must be heeded before an unfortunate incident becomes a major tragedy. That is not a question of "if" but "when". The effects that would have on cricket and the social structure of the country do not bear thinking about.
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