Unitech Cup, 2006 August 17, 2006

Angry South Africans deny rumours of split

Mark Boucher was incensed by the local media coverage of South Africa's pull out © Getty Images

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South Africa's cricketers reacted angrily to suggestions that senior players had bullied the younger ones into going along with the decision to return home from the tour of Sri Lanka. They were also fuming about the local media coverage of the withdrawal, with one prominent local daily carrying the back-page headline 'South African cricketers chicken out'.

Another, the Daily Mirror published out of Colombo alleged that Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Andrew Hall, Andre Nel and Mickey Arthur, the coach, were instrumental in the South Africans deciding to go home. The article also suggested that the decision had less to do with security, and more to do with their 2-0 loss in the Test series, and a fear of similar disappointments in the one-day games.

"It was a decision taken by everyone," said AB de Villiers, one of the younger players that had a lot to gain by playing here. "It was an opportunity for the young guys to play a few games in subcontinent conditions [with the Champions Trophy just two months away], and it's unfortunate that it won't happen. I'm prepared to give everything while playing for South Africa, but not my life."

de Villiers also said that those who criticised the team weren't aware of the facts of the matter. "It's nonsense to judge someone without being here in their situation. We're foreigners here, not knowing what's going on, and with bombs going off near us. The security guys are telling us to go home, and that's good enough for me."

Boucher, who was expected to captain the side during the one-day series, was incensed by the coverage, not least because it was his face that was prominently displayed beneath the chicken headline. "It's disappointing," he said, "and there's not much that you can do once such stuff is published."

Loots Bosman, the 29-year-old opening bat who was expected to get his chance here in Graeme Smith's absence, was probably the man with most to gain had South Africa stayed on. But he insisted that there was going to be only one decision after the team's security advisors told them the risk was untenable.

"Obviously, the whole situation is about safety," he told Cricinfo. "It's not a junior-senior issue. On the cricketing front, it's unfortunate, but I can't do much about it or have any control over such situations. Maybe I'll get an opportunity to represent South Africa again."

Having fielded calls all day regarding the alleged split within the ranks, Gordon Templeton, the team's media manager, also didn't mince words when asked his opinion about the stories called by the Daily News and the Daily Mirror. "Those with anything between their ears, and who understand cricket, would find such stories utterly laughable."

The team leaves Colombo on Friday morning, flying to Johannesburg via Hong Kong, but the ill-feeling that they leave behind may linger for some time.

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Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo