London: The British government finally invited English cricket chiefs to discuss a possible withdrawal. England's participation looked increasingly in danger when the British government announced late on Monday it would hold a meeting with senior England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) officials next week when chief executive Tim Lamb returns from Sydney where the team begins its fifth Ashes Test against Australia starting on Thursday.
Lamb has criticised the British government's policy of leaving the final decision on playing in Zimbabwe to the ECB. "The England and Wales Cricket Board has asked for the meeting next week," said a government statement. "We expect them to discuss their views and those of ministers about the England team playing in Zimbabwe. "The meeting will also consider the options the ECB has before it makes its final decision." England captain Nasser Hussain said cricketers alone could not decide whether to play. "It is far too important a decision for me to make, we have to get a huddle of people together to give us the facts," he said.
The director of the World Cup Ali Bacher agreed. "You cannot expect a sports body to make a decision of that magnitude. "That decision should rest with the respective governments," said Bacher. Meanwhile Lamb said cricket was a "soft target" for politicians and told the BBC of the financial consequences of pulling out of the Zimbabwe match. "We could find ourselves in a situation where we have to pay compensation to the International Cricket Council (ICC) or its commercial partners the Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) and I don't think the (British) government understands that."
GCC has paid the ICC $ 550 million for the rights to all ICC events until 2007 including the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. And the ECB could lose as much as 10 million Pounds ($ 15.8 million) if Mugabe responds to a boycott by preventing the Zimbabwe team from travelling to England for its post-World Cup Test and One-day series next year. The ICC has also said that teams will be docked points if they pull out of matches in Zimbabwe on political grounds.