London: English cricket legend Ian Botham has whacked the British government for six, accusing it of "hanging England's players out to dry" by prevaricating on whether World Cup matches should be played in Zimbabwe. While urging England cricket chiefs not to go ahead with a match against Zimbabwe scheduled for February 13 in Harare, Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to order the England team to pull out of its match.
The government has also ruled out compensating English cricket for any financial penalties incurred as a result of a boycott. "The situation in Zimbabwe is an area where the Government should pull their fingers out and make a stand instead of hanging England's cricketers out to dry," Botham told the 'Daily Mirror', echoing the sentiments of England captain Nasser Hussain. "I don't think it should be left to the players to make decisions when the consequences go far beyond the boundaries of sport."
The government has argued that playing matches in Zimbabwe would be tantamount to endorsing the regime of President Robert Mugable, who stands accused of myriad human rights abuses and rigging the presidential election earlier this year. Botham added, "We are well aware of what is going on in Zimbabwe - the country is being systematically raped and pillaged - and it's wrong to turn a blind eye to a humanitarian crisis.
"It's no good burying our heads in the sand and hoping it will all go away, because it won't. But you can't decide whether we play in Zimbabwe on a show of hands among 15 England players in the dressing room. "The Government needs to get off the fence, spell out its position to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and hopefully common sense will prevail.
"Why on earth they have waited so long to bat an eyelid when Zimbabwe has been crumbling in front of their eyes is beyond me. There are 40,000 British passport holders out there who have been ignored for too long already. The way they have been disowned is shameful."