London: English cricket supremo Tim Lamb confirmed on Sunday that the England players had received what he described as a 'hoax' threat of reprisals if they played their scheduled World Cup game in Zimbabwe.
Lamb, who was engaged in a last-ditch bid to persuade the English squad not to boycott the February 13 match because of security concerns, said the death threats had been contained in a letter he received last month. "A letter was sent to me on 20th of January which did issue an overt threat to the players," Lamb told BBC Radio Five. Lamb said he had passed the letter on to the International Cricket Council (ICC), the British High Commission in Harare and to British police, who had all concluded the threat did not come from a credible source.
"From all the assessment and scrutiny of the letter it is perfectly clear that it is a hoax letter and I think we have been able to persuade the players that that indeed is what it is." The England players are reportedly angry that they only found out about the letter from a group calling themselves the 'Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe' last week.
But Lamb dismissed suggestions of a cover-up. He said it would have been "unwise" to brief the players about the letter without having had it checked out. The chief executive of the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) made it clear he was still attempting to persuade the players to go to Zimbabwe, while giving no indication as to whether he was making any progress. "As far as I'm concerned no final decision has been made. Clearly the players have a dilemma."
The ECB last week backed a request to have England's match moved to South Africa but the ICC ruled that there was no reasonable basis for such a decision. As a result, if England's players boycott the match they will forfeit the tournament points and the ECB will suffer financial penalties for failing to honour its contractual commitments.
There are also fears Zimbabwe could retaliate by calling off a scheduled tour of England this summer, a move which would bankrupt English cricket. "There are a lot of implications in all of this," Lamb said. "We need to take sufficient time to reach the best decision in the wider interests of the game. That process will continue but I hope we can reach a conclusion today because I can appreciate that everyone wants to know where they stand." Lamb did not however rule out the discussions with the players dragging on into Monday.
"My hope is that can be concluded during the course of the day and we can make clear what the decision is later on today but we will take as long as is necessary to reach the right decision." England's cricketers have been under pressure from the British government for months to boycott Zimbabwe on moral grounds because of the policies of President Robert Mugabe. Some of the players have suggested that they share these concerns as well as being worried about security.