Armed police were called to the final day of Surrey versus Middlesex in the County Championship after a crossbow bolt was fired onto the field, abandoning play on the afternoon of the fourth day.
Police believe the 12-inch long metal-tipped bolt travelled around 800 metres before coming to ground about ten yards from the pitch. The incident took place at 4.20pm, during the 69th over of Middlesex’s second innings.
The players alerted the umpires, Michael Gough and Paul Baldwin, who acted quickly to take the players off the field – a number of them sprinting towards the changing room.
Fifteen minutes later, the Metropolitan police had been made aware of the incident, at which point officers, including firearm officers, made their way to the Kia Oval.
It was at this point that an announcement was made across the PA system at the ground for spectators and those in the open to “find cover”. Another announcement followed, urging people to move inside.
A full search of the ground was carried out by police and around 30 security staff. The game was abandoned at 5.05pm by which time around 1,000 spectators had been informed that they could leave.
The Metropolitan Police believe the bolt was fired from outside the ground, though they are unsure as to whether the bolt was fired deliberately or whether it was targeted at The Oval. They have, at this stage, stated that the incident is not being treated as terrorism related.
Richard Gould, Surrey’s chief executive, speaking after play was officially called off, said: “It had a pointed end and stuck in the turf when it crossed the outfield and landed.
“We are investigating reports that there was a noise on the roof of the OCS Stand but we haven’t been able to get up there to investigate whether it was the projectile ricocheting off the roof or a separate projectile. It is the sort of thing that could easily have been fired some distance from outside the ground if it came from a crossbow. It could very easily have killed someone.
“We may never find out if it was a deliberate act, but in these heightened times these sorts of acts are wholly irresponsible.
“People should not feel threatened in this way. If it is more than mischief-making then we need to find the perpetrators. We will review our security arrangements but threats can be so wide-ranging.
“There is probably no way of securing against this type of incident if it was fired from outside. We always try and provide the safest type of environment but it can be very difficult to stop this kind of act.”
Surrey’s captain Gareth Batty, who was fielding 25-yards away from where the arrow landed, said: “It was a pretty tasty arrow with a proper metal end. I did archery as a kid and that was not a normal archery arrow. The umpires dealt with it very well. There were no questions asked – we went off very quickly.
“Someone saw it in flight, there was a noise when it landed but it happened so quick. It is a deadly weapon for sure. If it had hit someone it would have caused some serious damage. It just shows the world we live in.
“You have to be diligent, it would be stupid not to be but if you’re constantly worrying about what is going to happen that is not a great place to be. If it is a crossbow rather than a longbow it is probably someone messing around and not understanding the implications of firing something into the air.
“Let’s hope it’s a couple of people who will feel pretty ashamed in the morning when they realise what happened.”
The Surrey players were in shock as they waited in the dressing room. Some only heard the bolt through the air before it hit the ground, with one player stating it “would have taken out a drive-man at midwicket”. Surrey vice-captain Rory Burns, stationed at orthodox midwicket, was the closest player to the bolt when it landed. Some players thought it had made its way into the ground from the direction of the Gas Cylinders
Officers took statements from the players, before giving them the all clear to leave the ground shortly after six o’clock, as part of what the Metropolitan police described as “a controlled evacuation”.
The match itself was abandoned as a draw: Middlesex establishing a second-innings lead of 181 after Sam Curran’s spell of three wickets in 10-balls had threatened to turn the game Surrey’s way, reducing Middlesex to 38 for 3 – a lead of just five.
A battling 88 not out from John Simpson kept the defending Champions safe, before the umpires, Surrey County Cricket Club staff and the Metropolitan police were called to ensure the safety of them and everyone else.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport
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