Englands Zim dilemma eclipses opening extravaganza

Published: Saturday, February 8, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: The eighth World Cup gets underway on Saturday, but the long-running saga of whether or not England will play its controversial match against Zimbabwe in Harare is set to overshadow the Cape Town ceremony. The six-week, 14-nation tournament, being played in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya and which has cost over $ 50 million to stage, will be officially declared open at Newlands in front of an estimated worldwide TV audience of 1.5 billion people.

But before then Nasser Hussain and his embattled English team will have made an agonising decision over its February 13 match in Harare which it wanted switched to South Africa on security grounds. The long-running dispute came to a head on Friday when the team's final appeal against the International Cricket Council's (ICC) refusal to move the game was rejected by independent commissioner Justice Albie Sachs. England has two choices - play the game or announce a boycott.

That would mean being docked four points and getting fined a substantial sum for breaking its contractual obligations. It would also run the risk of delivering a fatal blow to its hopes of making progress in the tournament as it has been drawn in the same group as champions Australia as well as India and Pakistan. In Cape Town, meanwhile, the $ 3 million opening ceremony will have a strong African theme and feature 5,000 volunteers who have spent the last two years preparing for the event.

The Newlands ground will also hold the opening game on Sunday when host South Africa takes on the West Indies in a day-night tie with the teams hoping that the opening ceremony will not have a detrimental effect on the wicket. A 32-ton stage was being placed over the pitch area for Saturday's event with the wicket covered with agricultural matting which enables the grass to stay healthy. "If there is no more rain, the field should be fine," said groundsman Christo Erasmus, who predicted a surface that would be fair to both teams.

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