Sri Lanka poke fun at fleeing South Africans

Published: Thursday, August 17, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Colombo:Sri Lankan officials and media made fun of South Africa's shell-shocked cricketers for pulling out of the tri-series, saying they would not have been able to play even if they stayed back.

Media Minister Anura Yapa said he was convinced that the South Africans were pulling out not because of fears of bomb blasts as they have officially claimed but because of bad weather.

"Even if they are here, they can't play cricket. The weather is bad," Yapa told reporters. "They may have got some information from the met department."

The South Africans had told local police that they received an e-mail from a previously unknown group claiming that there will be more bombings in Colombo following a deadly attack aimed at a Pakistan diplomat on Monday.

The Proteas abandoned the tri-series on Wednesday, saying "the current risk to the team is at an unacceptable level" following the blast near their hotel on Monday which killed seven people and injured eight.

But Cricket South Africa's assertion that an independent security assessment by a Dubai-based firm agreed with the team's own fears was ridiculed by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) chief executive Duleep Mendis.

"I am amazed at their decision to return home," Mendis, a former Sri Lankan Test captain, told AFP. "The government put in place presidential-level security for the team, yet they were not convinced.

"They took advice from a Dubai firm which is even more surprising. I did not see anyone from this firm in Colombo, yet they prepared a security report within 24 hours sitting in Dubai."

The state-run Daily News, under the headline 'South African cricketers chicken out', said: "They are used to playing in threatening conditions. In South Africa, one has to be careful when even taking a stroll on the streets."

India, not surprisingly, was praised for staying in Colombo to play three one-day internationals against the hosts on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday in lieu of the tri-series.

"India understood the situation better than the South Africans and accepted our assurances on security," said SLC media manager Samantha Algama.

The three matches will be played as day games at the Sinhalese sports club with a reserve day being kept aside for each match in case of bad weather.

The tri-series did not see a ball being bowled in the first two matches due to heavy rain which lashed the Sri Lankan capital over the last week. The forecast is for clear weather over the weekend.

Indian captain Rahul Dravid said his team was more concerned about the weather than the security arrangements.

"No one came to me and said he wanted to go home," Dravid told reporters. "Everyone is keen to play. We are probably worried more about the weather than the security."

Dravid denied there was any contradiction between South Africa flying home and the Indians opting to stay on in Colombo.

"South Africa have gone by the recommendations of their people," he said. "We have spoken to everyone concerned and we have full confidence and faith in what they have to say.

"It is sad, and it was unfortunate that the tri-series had to be called off. We don't live in a perfect world."

Dravid hoped the three One-dayers to follow will bring cricket back to the forefront in the troubled island nation.

"We have come here to play cricket and everyone in our team is conscious of the importance that cricket enjoys in Sri Lanka as well as India," he said.

"Hopefully we can bring some joy to the people here and they will have something to cheer about."

Mendis said Sri Lanka had proposed five matches but India wanted to play only three.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), which is headed by Percy Sonn of South Africa, said it would not act immediately on the Proteas' pullout.

"It's not for the ICC to judge South Africa," ICC media manager Brian Murgatroyd told AFP from his office in Dubai. "They made what they felt was the correct decision.

"It's now up to South Africa and Sri Lanka to come to an agreement as to when they can play these matches. The ICC will be involved in resolving the dispute only if the two cricket boards can't do so."

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