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Cricket takes a backseat to terror

ICC Champions Trophy

IN the aftermath of their victory over Sri Lanka, the Proteas woke to a city reeling from a fresh wave of terror at her door.

The proximity of it all – Vauxhall is but a walk from The Oval, where the opening Group B match was – is enough to unnerve the steadiest of hands.

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A message in relation to the London terror attack is displayed on the big screen before Sunday's ICC Champions Trophy match between India and Pakistan at Edgbaston. Photo: Reuters / Paul Childs

The free world as we know it is no more, and one of the world’s great cities is on guard, wary of where the next target may be.

South Africa’s cricketers have been in the UK for barely a fortnight, but they’ve already seen Manchester attacked, and now London.

It becomes a very real fear when one considers that some of the areas targeted on Saturday night were places where a player, fan or journalist may have wandered for a drink or a nibble, perhaps after taking in the Champions League final that followed the cricket.

These are attacks that strike at the heart of the very freedom and diversity that London prides itself for. There is no freedom when roads and train stations are closed, when bodies are counted, and police numbers are doubled.

On Sunday, the Proteas slipped out of the capital, and made off for Birmingham, where they will play Pakistan on Wednesday.

Already there was a stronger show of authority and force around international teams and match venues, which was strengthened further after Manchester.

On the streets of London on Sunday, there was an eerie silence, a twitch in the air that wiped away the joy of an English summer arriving earnestly.

In this climate, bats and balls become a secondary consideration, as hearts wander home, and minds imagine the worst.

The Champions Trophy is barely a week old in its reincarnation, but it already faces a tough test, one that they could never have seen coming.

It is a tough break.

This is supposed to be a celebration, a fabulous feast of runs, wickets and the wondrous skills that showcase the need for 50-over cricket to survive and, dare we say it, thrive.

For the teams involved, it is expected to be business as usual, but already there was a becalmed atmosphere at the normally raucous clash of wills between India and Pakistan.

England, lest we forget, is a small island, and the reverberations of any incident are felt nationwide.

The UK government maintains that life must carry defiantly on.

A tribute concert for the Manchester victims, took place at Old Trafford cricket ground on Sunday, headlined by Arianna Grande.

The elections that are due to start this week are to carry on. And, so too will the cricket. The ICC have said they are monitoring the situation, and the Proteas are guided by their wisdom, and they are currently in Birmingham, away from the hot zone at this point.

It is a terrifyingly eerie place that these cricketers currently occupy, far worse than any demons that may confront them on the field of play. There, you know that there may be a googly, a bouncer or a slower ball coming your way. You have an idea how to cope with it, because your enemy is familiar.

South Africa and the rest will try to carry on as usual, but all eight teams – and everyone else following this tournament – know that they are also playing an unseen foe, one who strikes without warning, and without any reason except to cause the havoc and paranoia that currently throttles London and the rest of the UK.

That is a shuddering thought, and one every player must live with for the next fortnight, long after they have bowled or swatted a boundary. They are playing as they look over their shoulders, and that was never on their to-do list when they arrived.

Adapting to conditions, JP Duminy, said recently, was key to surviving this frenetic tournament. But these conditions are just something else.

It’s just not cricket.

The Mercury

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