Melbourne: Australia's squad will leave for South Africa on Thursday unsure whether its World Cup cricket match in Zimbabwe will go ahead as scheduled. Several players admitted to growing concerns on Wednesday about playing on February 24 in the strife-torn nation. But Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) chief Tim May said there would not be any rushed decision to call the match off or ask for it to be moved.
Security issues dominate the build-up to the eighth World Cup, with England's players making an urgent request for their match in Harare to be shifted to South Africa. The New Zealand team is also unwilling to play in Kenya after it learnt of the existence of an active terrorist cell, which allegedly had the means to attack targets in the capital Nairobi.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) have supported matches going ahead as scheduled in Zimbabwe and Kenya. But ACB chief executive James Sutherland said the Board would still be prepared to call off the February 24 match if necessary, as it had done in the past. The ICC will discuss the issue at an executive board meeting later this week. The Australian squad arrive in Johannesburg late on Thursday. "We have growing concerns but I don't want them to be exaggerated," May said on Wednesday.
"The players have agreed to the process that we typically have put in place for tours like this where there are security concerns. "We have the process of regular contact with the government and the ACB, getting that information and communicating it to the players, nothing has changed in that regard. "We understand the implications of such a decision are far reaching for numerous stake-holders here and numerous bodies of people, so we are not going to rush into any particular decision. " The players have some concerns, that doesn't mean they're not going to go."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday renewed calls for the ICC to call off matches in Zimbabwe and said the Australian government was prepared to contribute to any cost to cricket authorities of a boycott. "My suspicion is that a lot of the players feel that way, but ...I don't put prohibitions on the freedom of movement of Australian citizens, particularly sports men and women who are free to travel wherever they like," he said in a television interview.
Australia pulled out of last year's planned tour of Zimbabwe after receiving advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and also forfeited a 1996 World Cup match in Sri Lanka because of concerns about player safety. As a result, skipper Ricky Ponting said on Wednesday he had full confidence that the ACB would do the right thing by the players.