Englands fix on Zim takes a change, players reluctant

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003, 0:03 [IST]
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London: In a near about-turn, the English cricketers are reconsidering playing their World Cup match in Harare due to a growing "concern on moral grounds" about the situation in Zimbabwe. A day after the International Cricket Council (ICC) gave its go-ahead to the six World Cup matches scheduled in Zimbabwe, the English team has not only expressed reluctance to play in Harare on February 13 but also wanted the other games to be shifted out of the country, media reports here said.

England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which had resisted pressures from the political leadership to boycott the match against Zimbabwe, said captain Nasser Hussain had voiced the players' concern after they received letters warning that the Harare match could spark off violent protests. "We are not at the stage where the players are saying they are not going but the captain sensibly advised me that there is a real concern on moral grounds felt by the squad of 15 players, himself included," ECB chairman David Morgan was quoted as saying by 'The Observe2'.

Richard Bevan, managing director of Professional Cricketers' Association, said players were increasingly reluctant to go to Zimbabwe and wanted the six matches in Zimbabwe and two in Kenya to be moved to South Africa. "The common sense view is that the games should have been moved to South Africa and compensation paid to Zimbabwe and Kenya from the $ 500 million sponsorship money to stop the political issues overshadowing the tournament. I had hoped that that may have been the case," Bevan said. "The concerns are growing. It is obviously extremely concerning. The concerns are significant. We can see the problem escalating. We wait in anticipation," Bevan said.

Morgan said Hussain, "advised me that the players who were ready to go a week ago were less ready now". "Clearly the players are very concerned about the plight of people in Zimbabwe and their own image in going there to play a cricket match while the lives of Zimbabweans are at an all-time low level," he said. The change of mood among the players had been discernible for a few days but it hardened after each of them received a five-page letter in their dressing room in Sydney on Thursday. The letters, purportedly from a freedom-fighting group, made no threat of violence but warned the players about the unrest that might unfold if the games went ahead.

"We are discussing things in the dressing room, certainly the senior players," Hussain said. "You have to when you are getting letters in the dressing room. We are not a lot of numb-heads who don't have a chat." The ICC has twice sent a delegation to review security in Zimbabwe and both times concluded that it was safe to play matches at Harare and Bulawayo. ICC is meeting again on Thursday to study the ground situation in that country.

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