x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Time to focus on cricket

Security has been a big issue, but now with the Twenty20 World Cup upon us the teams just want to get on with playing the game they love.

The World Twenty20 is cricket's first showpiece event since armed militants attacked the Sri Lanka side on their way to a Test match in Lahore this year. There will be a huge focus on security in England - well used to dealing with threats of terrorism - over the coming weeks.

Kumar Sangakkara, the captain of Sri Lanka, has urged his side to display "mental strength and fortitude" and show that sport cannot be disrupted by such attacks. Six members of the Sri Lanka team, including Sangakkara, were wounded after gunmen shot at their team bus en route to the Gaddafi Stadium for the second Test against Pakistan in March. Six Pakistani policemen and the driver of the bus carrying match officials were killed.

"Since Lahore we have accepted there is never a 100 per cent guarantee - that's the way life is," said Sangakkara. "We've got to have the mental strength and fortitude to get on with playing cricket. "With all teams in the current world climate, not just us, security is going to be an issue. "But still worldwide there is a threat so our mental comfort depends on certain things being put in place for us and so far we have been very satisfied."

The Sri Lanka team are liaising daily with a national police intelligence cell set up to oversee security for the World Cup in England, which starts today. The tournament director Steve Elworthy, 44, held the same role at the 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa. The former South Africa player said security had been stepped up since the Lahore attack. "The situation has changed and it's now a completely different landscape to then," he said.

"Without a shadow of a doubt it opened our eyes even more to the hazards facing cricketers and officials. "Our security plan for the event was already at an advanced stage and in place, but something like that made us go back and re-check everything again and do a strategy review." Organisers, as well as the International Cricket Council (ICC), believe they have done as much as they can to keep the players safe.

All teams will get police convoys to and from matches and when travelling between venues, while there are also dedicated security staff for each nation. The man heading the event's security is the former chief constable of Devon and Cornwall in south-west England, John Evans, who also advised the English Football Association on security. The England team's security head Reg Dickason is also involved, as are the ICC's own independent security consultants.

Despite the added attention, Sangakkara said the increased security measures had not distracted his side from cricket. "It feels like just another tournament; they have done a good job at keeping everything low key," he says. "We have the opportunity to just concentrate on cricket and that's very nice." In contrast to the ebullience of some of the other World Twenty20 contenders, England open the tournament at Lord's almost apologising for their presence

Although the hosts should not be unduly extended by the Netherlands, their captain Paul Collingwood was noticeably downbeat after his side's unimpressive victory over Scotland in Tuesday's warm-up match. They did secure a nine-wicket win with 32 balls to spare at Lord's over the West Indies on Wednesday in their final warm-up, but Collingwood is not setting his sights too high despite home advantage.

"There are not a lot of expectations on us to be honest," he says. "We are dark horses. Hopefully that will give the boys a bit more of a licence." Ravi Bopara, who scored three successive test centuries against West Indies, was again in fine touch with 60 from 35 balls. He looked comfortable alongside Luke Wright, and the pair are set to open together today. Since playing their inaugural Twenty20 international against Australia four years ago, England have tried 11 different pairings at the top of the order with little success in 15 matches.

Kevin Pietersen also showed some form against the Scots after missing the one-day series against West Indies with an Achilles tendon injury. Pietersen, who made two ducks in the Indian Premier League and perished to the first ball in the first Test against West Indies, completed the win on Tuesday with a pulled six to reach 53 not out from 39 balls. The Netherlands are rank outsiders, but their captain Jeroen Smits is relishing having all the focus on England today. "There's no pressure on us, There's no Dutch reporters here," he says.

The tournament, which is being staged at Lord's and the Oval in London and Trent Bridge in Nottingham, gets into full swing tomorrow with three matches. The champions India, who thrashed Pakistan by nine wickets on Wednesday, will open their cup defence against Bangladesh at Trent Bridge. Mahendra Singh Dhoni played down the importance of his side's win over their neighbours, despite saying it was one of the best India performances he has seen.

They underlined their status as favourites for this summer's competition with a breathtaking batting display which saw them surpass Pakistan's total of 158 for six with three overs to spare. Rohit Sharma (80) and Gautam Gambhir (52 not out) combined to put on a destructive 140 for the first wicket in front of a sell-out crowd at the Oval. Pakistan had looked in a reasonable position after Misbah ul Haq (37 not out) and Younus Khan (32) scored freely off the bowling of Praveen Kumar and RP Singh.

Dhoni, who made an unbeaten nine, was happy with his side's efforts but denied that it sent a message out to their Twenty20 rivals. "It was one of the best games we have played and it will be tough to replicate this performance, it was brilliant," he says. "It was a tough game but overall I'm happy we managed to stop them at 158. We put a lot of pressure on them, restricted their singles and we tried to put as much pressure on them as we could.

"I don't think it underlines our status as favourites though. It's not about being favourites, you have to perform like this throughout the tournament to win. "You can be thrown out of the tournament easily, especially at the knockout stage. "We are the side that has done well, but that's all on paper after all. We have potential and we will be a tough team to beat." Dhoni's side suffered a shock loss against New Zealand on Monday. They still have a lot to do to prove they can win the tournament.

"A victory is a victory. It doesn't matter who you are playing against whether it be Ireland, Bangladesh or Scotland," says Dhoni "It was important that we won this game after losing the other day so we can go into the final on form." The Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam was not worried about his side's chances of success in the tournament despite recording their second loss in three days. "I'm not really concerned. It's early days. We will come good at the right time," he said.

"I thought 158 wasn't a bad score but I don't think we bowled well, especially the spinners. We have lost two games but we will perform when the real time comes." West Indies are in the toughest of the four groups, sharing Group C with Australia and Sri Lanka. Four teams will be eliminated in the group stages and the remaining eight will play off for a semi-final spot. The final is at Lord's on June 21

* Agencies England v Netherlands, 8.30pm, Prime Sport