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Unitech Cup, 2006

South Africa to remain in Sri Lanka

Dileep Premachandran in Colombo

August 15, 2006

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Gerald Majola, chief executive of Cricket South Africa, was due to fly to Sri Lanka at the earliest to review the situation © Getty Images
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The South African team has decided to remain in Sri Lanka till an independent security evaluation judges whether it's safe for them to stay or not.

Following yesterday's bomb blast in the heart of Colombo, barely 2 kms from where they were staying, the South Africans had wanted to pull out of the triangular series and head home. They were awaiting former ICC approval in this regard, when pressure from different quarters forced them to review their decision.

Brian Basson, Cricket South Africa's Cricket Affair's General Manager said today: "Police and security officials have assured us that the highest levels of security in Sri Lanka are now in place to ensure the safety of the Proteas.

"We have also been advised by the South African Commission High Commissioner in Colombo that all indications are that the team and cricket in general do not appear to be targets in the general unrest in Sri Lanka. The safety of the team has been paramount in all our deliberations and we have been assured that upgraded security levels for the team will achieve this.

Under these circumstances the team will remain in Sri Lanka while the upgraded security measures are being evaluated."

Basson added that the opening match of the tournament between South Africa and Sri Lanka, which was scheduled for Tuesday but had to be postponed following the bomb blast, will now be played as the sixth and final match of the league on August 29. The finals will be held on September 2.

The South Africans are due to play their first match against India on Saturday should a decision to stay in Sri Lanka be taken.

Meanwhile, Gerald Majola, chief executive of Cricket South Africa, was due to fly to Sri Lanka at the earliest to discuss the situation with Sri Lankan and Indian officials, and also his own players.

The South Africans had been expected to head back home, with the consent of their board, but it now emerges that pressure from the South African government has forced a rethink. According to sources close to the team, Sri Lanka Cricket had asked Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president who is also a union cabinet minister in India, to contact the South African government and urge them to reconsider the decision to abandon the tour.

The news hasn't gone down well with the players, who were wandering around Colombo's upmarket shopping arcades with the air of demobbed men. The security consultants travelling with the team have apparently said that the situation is such that the team's safety cannot be guaranteed, and the change of heart from their own government - even as attempts were being made to find tickets for everyone on the same flight home - has caused much resentment.

It's understood that the senior players are those most keen to leave, with some suggesting that they would hop on a plane even if their cricket board went back on its earlier stance and asked them to play. The situation is slightly different with the younger bunch, many of whom see the tournament as an opportunity to make an impact with several key members of the side absent injured.

The players' association in South Africa is sure to become involved in any discussion, with Graeme Smith - captain since 2003 - supporting his team's wish to return home. The South Africans may also point to a recent football precedent to bolster their case. Liverpool were scheduled to play a Champions League qualifier against Maccabi Haifa on August 22, but UEFA, the European game's governing body, has since moved the game from Israel to Kiev in the Ukraine after the team's players, management and board flat-out refused to travel to West Asia.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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