June 9, 2001

Pitch invaders 'will risk being prosecuted' - ECB's reaction

"Members of the general public who steal the stumps/bails and/or who cause wilful damage to the pitch will risk being prosecuted." These were the words of the England & Wales Cricket Board on Friday as they tried their hardest to convince the public

"Members of the general public who steal the stumps/bails and/or who cause wilful damage to the pitch will risk being prosecuted." These were the words of the England & Wales Cricket Board on Friday as they tried their hardest to convince the public that they were serious about preventing mass pitch invasions such as the one which marred Thursday night's one-day international between England and Pakistan at Edgbaston.

"The crowd incursions on to the playing area last night were totally unacceptable and we are doing everything we can to ensure that there is no repetition during any of the other matches in the NatWest Series," ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said in a press release yesterday.

"We have therefore decided to act swiftly and implement a number of immediate remedial measures," Lamb went on to say. However the measures, the threat of the "risk of prosecution" being one, appear rather less than convincing:

  • "Additional security and crowd control measures" to be provided in the area around dressing rooms and the pavilion area where players enter and leave the field - the measures not being specified;

  • Increased levels of stewarding at strategic points around the ground;

  • Authority for umpires to suspend play if spectators start to encroach on the playing area - an authority which umpires in most parts of the world would be expected to have already;

  • The use of an Urdu public address announcer at matches involving Pakistan - apparently under the premise that Pakistani supporters in England don't (a) speak English, or (b) understand the words "keep off the field" in English.

Lamb also said in the press release that the police presence at Edgbaston had been doubled for Thursday night's game. Despite this, large numbers of supporters were allowed to swarm around the perimeter of the ground late in the match in anticipation of the fall of the tenth wicket. The police and other crowd control officials were unable to prevent not one but two invasions of the pitch by the crowd on Thursday night, England batsman Nick Knight reportedly being struck during the first incident.

Earlier on Friday, Australian captain Steve Waugh told reporters that the Australian camp had expressed concerns before the start of the England tour over crowd control at grounds, recalling a number of such incidents during the early phases of the 1999 World Cup.

Waugh told reporters that the response that the ECB had given to their concerns was that "it was in the culture of English cricket to have people run on the grounds and it was our responsibility to get off the ground quickly before anything happens."

This was consistent with statements issued by the ECB's World Cup organising committee during the 1999 event, in which the "English tradition", of allowing spectators to mingle on the field after the conclusion of play, was strongly defended.

Yesterday's statement from the ECB failed to directly address Waugh's perception of the English authorities' attitude beyond saying that "we reject the suggestion made by the Australian captain that the ECB does not regard the matter of crowd invasions as a safety issue."

Waugh himself was fortunate to escape serious injury in 1999 when a beer bottle narrowly missed striking him on the head during an unruly crowd disturbance at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados.

Australia enter the NatWest Series this weekend with a double-header of matches, playing Pakistan at Cardiff today, and England at Bristol tomorrow. The next day-night game in the tournament will be between England and Australia at Old Trafford next Thursday, while Pakistan's next floodlit engagement will be against the Australians at Trent Bridge, Nottingham on Tuesday week.