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Sri Lanka cancel Oxford visit over security fears

Sri Lankan players withdrew from a scheduled visit following a newspaper story on attacks on Tamil civilians back home

Muttiah Muralitharan belts out a confident appeal, Sri Lanka v India, 5th ODI, Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, February 8, 2009

Muttiah Muralitharan: not heading for the Oxford Union  •  AFP

Less than three months after their team bus came under terrorist gunfire in Lahore, members of the Sri Lankan cricket team have withdrawn from a scheduled visit to Oxford due to security concerns.
Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and team manager Brendon Kuruppu informed the Oxford Union debating society on Friday they feared a backlash after a front-page story in the Times in which it was claimed that 20,000 Tamil civilians had been killed in recent hostilities between government troops and LTTE.
The Sri Lankans arrived in England this week ahead of the World Twenty20; their first international assignment since the attack outside the Gadaffi Stadium, which claimed the lives of eight security and transport personnel and wounded seven players and coaching staff. Murali, who is himself a Tamil, had been due, along with Sangakkara and Kuruppu, to deliver an oration at the Oxford Union - following in the footsteps of US presidents and other heads of state - but the visit was scrapped due to uneasiness over security arrangements.
Kuruppu, the former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper who is now the team's manager, told Cricinfo that after reading the newspaper article, the team management had decided not to take any chances. The Sri Lankan government has denied the Tamil civilian death toll quoted in the front page report.
"It is nothing alarming," Kuruppu said. "We just don't want to take chances."
Major General Lawrence Fernando, Sri Lankan Cricket's security consultant, had previously inspected the Oxford site and briefed the players about security measures. "But today we were informed the measures were not put in place," Kuruppu said. "Also the ICC security consultants were informed that the function was cancelled first and then at short notice they informed once again that it was on. But since the security consultants had not done the necessary security surveillance of the site they advised us not to take the risks."
In a statement, the Oxford Union described the confusion of security arrangements as "extremely disappointing and [one] we apologise profusely for." The Union understood the Sri Lankans' trepidation, a spokesman added, following the attacks in Lahore.
"The message we received from them is that they pulled out because of security fears generated after the front page story appeared in the Times," the spokesman told Cricinfo. "It is disappointing for us, because people often plan well ahead to make sure they can attend these events, but we understand if there is some uneasiness there. There was no specific [threat], just a heightened state of security concern."

Nagraj Gollapudi is assistant editor at Cricinfo, Alex Brown is deputy editor