The South African cricket team are not happy campers tonight, with the news that an independent security evaluation will decide whether they stay on to play a tri-series or head home. Their first match of the tournament, against Sri Lanka on Monday, was rained off, and following the uncertainty of the past 24 hours, the players spent a sunny reserve day wandering
around waiting for word from Cricket South Africa's head honchos.
The team are said to be incensed about the fact that the recommendations made by the security firm of Nichols and Steyn have been overlooked. According to a source close to the team, "They're inclined to wonder about the ICC, which has used the services of Nichols and Steyn several times in the past before sanctioning tours of Pakistan and Bangladesh. It seems that their opinion carries weight at times, but not when it doesn't suit the ICC." For the record, the firm was in charge of security for the 2003 World Cup, while Rory Steyn was responsible for Nelson Mandela's personal security.
The decision to bring in an independent authority is however the best option for the game's administrators. With Nichols and Steyn based in South Africa, their findings could well be seen as biased by the Sri Lankans, while any Sri Lankan security appraisal would be seen as similarly skewed by South Africa. Olive, a Dubai-based firm, now have the onerous task of deciding whether the players will be safe in Colombo.
There is also some mystification about the statement from the South African High Commission in Colombo, which states that "the team, and cricket in general, do not appear to be targets in the civil unrest in Sri Lanka."
But as Rex Clementine, a journalist with the Island newspaper pointed out, that has always been the case. "When Australia and West Indies were contemplating boycotting the World Cup matches in Colombo in 1996, the LTTE took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement that said there was no question of them targetting the cricket matches or the players,"
said Clementine. "In fact, they urged the teams to come and play."
South Africa's players now face an anxious 48-hour wait before they know whether they're staying or zipping up bags that are already half-packed. Several of the players remained clearly shaken by Monday's events. Some of the team, including Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel, had returned early after a practice session at the Sinhalese Sports Club, and passed by the Liberty Plaza mere minutes before the Claymore mine went off. The siege mentality within the squad goes hand-in-hand with snowballing resentment at being treated like pawns in a larger game that appears infinitely more complex than a simple affair of bat and ball.