England players put off Zimbabwe decision till Sunday

Published: Saturday, February 8, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Cape Town: England's cricketers have put off until Sunday a decision about whether or not to play their controversial World Cup opener against Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tim Lamb and chairman David Morgan will continue discussions throughout Saturday with the players and their representatives, said an ECB statement. "There will be no further public comment on this issue today.

At this stage, it is envisaged that a media conference will be held on Sunday morning," said the statement. Players and officials are in Cape Town for the opening ceremony of the World Cup due to be held later in the day. Earlier Lamb told reporters that a decision on Thursday's match in Harare was "unlikely" Saturday. It appeared that the length of any possible England stay in Zimbabwe was one of the sticking points to a resolution to the crisis while senior tournament sources suggested the players might yet perform a U-turn and go ahead with the match.

England great Fred Trueman said if the team boycotted the fixture it would have his "full backing". "With that barbaric regime running a once such beautiful country, England travelling there might be seen as upholding what's happening. Losing four points would make them even more determined to do well," explained Trueman, the first man to take 300 Test wickets. "I went there in 1960 and found the people wonderful. To see it now is a crying shame. If they decide not to go, they'll have my full backing." Trueman's old county colleague and ex-England captain Brian Close also said Nasser Hussain's men should refuse to go to Zimbabwe.

"I wouldn't play there if I were still a player," said Close, who also expressed concern about possible protests by opponents of President Robert Mugabe. "What happens to the Democracy demonstrators if England go ahead with the game?" But Middlesex coach John Emburey said England would "probably go" to Zimbabwe. "The players are contracted to the ECB and they in turn are contracted to the ICC," the former England off spinner said. "The players might have moral objections but they've got an obligation to go." Recalling his own experiences after England was plunged into controversy following then captain Mike Gatting's infamous on-field row with umpire Shakoor Rana in Pakistan in 1987, Emburey said much would now depend on the team's elder statesmen.

"My experience then and since was that the attitude of the senior players was crucial. Young players don't tend to stand up and speak out in team meetings. They are carried along by what the senior players do." Meanwhile, former England coach David Lloyd warned the team it would be in for a tough contest if the game went ahead. "Zimbabwe will feel it has been let down dreadfully by England and that contest will not be a pushover game by any means." Lloyd, who when England coach sparked outrage in Zimbabwe after saying his team had "murdered" its opponents, following a draw in the inaugural Test between the nations in Bulawayo in 1996, added, "Expect the co-hosts to punch way above their weight."

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