Cape Town: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)'s final appeal to have its World Cup opener against Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13 switched to South Africa on safety grounds was rejected by independent commissioner Justice Albie Sachs at a hearing on Friday. The ECB has no right of appeal against the ruling of South African judge Sachs, one of three World Cup commissioners acting as the tournament's 'court of last resort'. Now England must either go ahead with Thursday's match as scheduled or withdraw and be docked four World Cup points, as well as risk a substantial fine imposed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for breaking its contractual obligations.
England spokesman Andrew Walpole told that they had no immediate official comment to make about Sachs's decision. "The players are currently receiving a media briefing from Patric Ronan, the World Cup's head of security," he said. "They will then have a pre-arranged meeting with Tim Lamb (ECB chief executive) and Richard Bevan (players' representative and managing director of England's Professional Cricketers' Association). "This could go on for several hours," added Walpole at 7:30pm local time (1730GMT). "We may have a further statement then but I cannot say for certain."
Last month England's players said they wanted the match moved because of fears for their own security and that of Zimbabwean spectators. And this week, for the first time in the protracted saga, the ECB publicly called for the match to be relocated only to be rebuffed days later by the technical committee. On Friday, the players in Cape Town ahead of Saturday's World Cup opening ceremony here at Newlands, got their first sight of the safety report commissioned by the ICC from American security firm Kroll. This concluded that it was safe for the six World Cup matches in Zimbabwe and two in Kenya to proceed as planned.
Bevan, who has acted as the team's representative, was angered at what they saw as the unjustified reluctance of the ICC to show them a copy of the Kroll report. ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed responded by saying that the report's precise details could not be too widely disseminated otherwise they risked becoming public and so damaging the world governing body's security plans. England's hopes of moving the match to South Africa had already been dealt a further blow ahead of Thursday's technical committee meeting when Zimbabwe made it clear it would never agree to such a re-location. South Africa is staging 46 of the February 8 to March 23 tournament's 54 fixtures. Sachs, keen to get the issue resolved ahead of Saturday's festivities, imposed strict conditions on both ECB and Zimbabwe Cricket Union officials at Friday's hearing.
The ECB had to submit a written case to Sachs by 11am local time and this in turn was immediately passed to the ZCU, which was able to respond in writing by 1pm (1100GMT). At the hearing proper both sides were limited to a 30-minute verbal presentation. "It is clearly in the interests of all concerned that the appeal be dealt with as rapidly as possible," said Sachs before giving his judgment. The ECB has been under huge political pressure to boycott the Harare fixture. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said England should not play there in protest at alleged human rights abuses carried out by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.