India held their nerve both on and off the field to win a close match against Kent on Friday night. Originally scheduled as a 50-over fixture, the game was converted into a Twenty20 game after heavy rains delayed the start.
The match, played under the shadow of a bomb scare, was won by the visitors by five runs. “We were informed by security officers that some suspicious devices had been found in the city, but they assured us the ground was safe and we decided to go ahead with the game,” manager Shivlal Yadav said.
As the Indian openers, Rahul Dravid and Parthiv Patel went out to bat, the manager was seen speaking to the assistant manager Sathish, the team security officer Zak and ECB-appointed liaison officer, Trevor. Yadav and the security officer then apprised the senior players of the team about the situation before taking the call to continue with the game. The duo was seen locked in discussion with Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni inside the dressing room.
Meanwhile, outside the arena, the entire city had come to a standstill. The roads had been barricaded and the train service to Canterbury stopped. Media reports said a rucksack with wires protruding from it and linked to a mobile phone was found near a railway line.
A suspicious device was also found in the changing room of a Marks & Spencer store less than 400 metres from the team hotel. A small fire was discovered in the changing room but was soon put out. A police spokesman said the officers were investigating what looked like an “elaborate hoax”.
But the 3,000-strong crowd showed no panic except towards the end when a few people left the venue early, talking in hushed tones. If the cricketers were nervous, there was no hint of it in their body language, as both the Kent and Indian players went at each other with full intensity. Virat Kohli was India's star, hitting a swashbuckling 78 to help India reach 164.
Kent tested India to the full with Joe Denly leading the chase with a century. He seemed to have set up the platform for a win, as the home team needed only eight runs off the last over. However, Munaf Patel came up with a brilliant over, conceding just two runs, to win the game for India. The seriousness of the situation hit everyone after the last ball was bowled as heavily armed security personnel invaded the ground. The area around the dressing room was sanitised and spectators were herded towards the opposite gates.
The Indian team was whisked away quietly. “We were advised against travelling in the team bus. The main concern was that the Marks & Spencers showroom was on the way. We were brought in different vehicles and from a different route,” said Yadav. “It was a hoax and the rest of tour will go ahead.”