Unitech Cup 2006 August 14, 2006

Blast casts doubts over tri-series

Redemption deferred: South African players, at a fielding drill this morning, were hoping to avenge their Test series debacle against the hosts; the blast in Colombo instead may see them heading home without a ball bowled © Getty Images

The fate of the Unitech Cup - a triangular tournament involving Sri Lanka, South Africa and India - remained uncertain after a bomb blast in central Colombo killed seven and injured 17 this afternoon despite an assurance of "maximum security" from the Sri Lankan board.

As things stand, the series is still on, with Sri Lanka and South Africa playing on Tuesday, the reserve day, after their opening encounter was washed out owing to torrential rain. Inclement weather remained a concern but player security was the priority.

Gordon Templeton, the South African team's media manager, had this to say to Cricinfo: "Our cricket board is in consulation with the consulate here and also our security firm. They will come to a decision based on that."

When asked if that meant South Africa would not wait for the 10am meeting scheduled for tomorrow, he said: "The decision will be taken by the board, and it may happen before that meeting."

However, the Indian board has categorically stated that there is no question of their pulling out. Sharad Pawar, the president of the board, said it's the host nation that has to take the decision on such matters. As things stand, it is likely that India and Sri Lanka will contest a bilateral series in South Africa's absence. Lalit Modi, the vice-president of the BCCI, told Cricinfo: "What South Africa decide is their business. Let us not speculate. Let us wait for the facts and then decide. The series is on and we haven't heard anything to the contrary."

Sri Lankan cricket officials and security experts assured both the Indian and South African team managements that the bomb blast was a one-off, and that security for both teams would be further beefed up. The blast, allegedly triggered by a Claymore mine, took place shortly after noon, near the popular Liberty Plaza shopping mall in the heart of the city. less than 2km from the Cinnamon hotel where the South Africans are staying, and just over 3km from the Taj Samudra, which is housing the Indians.

"We are pretty worried," said Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, "they tried to explain how a cricket event or the teams were least likely to be targetted. But this was quite close to home. It's fair to say that if we hadn't been playing today, a lot of our boys might have been over at Liberty Plaza." This was the second blast in the the city in less than ten days.

Arthur was present at a meeting organised by Duleep Mendis, the chief executive officer of Sri Lanka Cricket, with coaches and managers of the three participating teams. He assured maximum security to the three teams and communicated to them the board's decision to go ahead with the tournament.

Arthur said that the Sri Lankan officials had done their best to allay the team's fears but admitted that the players were tense. "The situation seems to be getting worse too, if you watch the news and read the papers. We saw today that a truck full of explosives had been stopped just outside of Colombo."

Meanwhile, Rajan Nair, India's media manager, said that a further meeting was planned for tomorrow morning, and that the Indian team was protected by three layers of security at their hotel. When asked if the prospect of a blast en route to the ground - Liberty Plaza in on the way to the SSC where India were scheduled to practise this afternoon - didn't worry the players, he said: "Sri Lankan security officials are responsible for safety when we are travelling, and they have assured us that nothing untoward will happen."

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo.