England may end up under prepared for Zimbabwe tie

Published: Sunday, February 9, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Cape Town: England's cricketers are set to announce later on Sunday whether or not they will 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 were locked in marathon talks with their players for most of Saturday before breaking off to attend the night's opening ceremony at Newlands.

The team's scheduled 0730 local time (0530 GMT) flight to Harare on Sunday was cancelled - instead a press conference will be held where the final decision is due to be revealed. "The matter is down to us in terms of how much preparation we would need. It's a very complex and sensitive issue," said Lamb. However, tournament sources hinted that the game will go ahead despite England's reservations with the only sticking point appearing to be the amount of time the team would spend in Zimbabwe. Harare is 6,000 feet (1,830m) above sea-level, causing concerns that should they fly in at the last minute because of their safety fears they would be badly under- prepared for the vital game.

A decision on the long-running saga had been expected on Saturday only for the ECB to prolong the agony by calling Sunday's press conference. Ominously, on Saturday, Zimbabwe police arrested three members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is currently on trial for treason. The arrests came after the Zimbabwe government vowed to crack down on anyone it suspected was involved in planning to disrupt the country's six scheduled World Cup matches during the February 8 to March 23 tournament.

Following South African judge Sachs' ruling, the England players had six-and-a-half hours of meetings on Friday. These included a briefing from World Cup security chief Patrick Ronan, as well as talks with ECB officials and player representatives.

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