Johannesburg: South Africa has threatened to cancel its post-World Cup tour of England if Nasser Hussain's men refuse to play their February 13 tournament opener against Zimbabwe in Harare, according to a British newspaper - a move that could do massive damage to English cricket's finances. Monday's 'Daily Telegraph' reported that, during Saturday's World Cup opening ceremony at Cape Town's Newlands ground, United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) president Percy Sonn warned England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman David Morgan that the Proteas might refuse to tour England where it is due to play five Tests in the Northern summer.
England's players and the ECB have both voiced security concerns about proceeding with the match in famine-threatened Zimbabwe, saying they are worried about the safety of spectators as well as themselves. They fear ugly scenes if Zimbabwe security forces crackdown on opponents of President Robert Mugabe, who might use the game as a forum for political protest. However, despite months of agonising and numerous rounds of last-ditch talks, they have still to announce whether they will play the game or not.
Meanwhile Sonn, apparently affronted by what he sees as a slight to his neighbours, in what is being promoted as an 'African' festival of cricket, has reportedly told Morgan about the safety threat that exists in the United Kingdom. According to the 'Telegraph', he cited the death of a policeman in Manchester, Northern England, on anti-terrorist duty and also made reference to recent comments by Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. Blair warned, that because terror incidents were now a fact of modern life, and in particular given Britain's hard line stance against the al-Qaida terror network and his government's willingness to countenance military action against Iraq, the country was at risk as never before.
His government has also been one of the strongest international critics of the Mugabe regime and he has called on England to boycott its match in protest at its alleged human rights abuses while saying he cannot compel the side to withdraw. English cricket has yet to be blighted by the cancellation of tours on safety and political grounds that have affected other Test nations such as Pakistan. But the ECB has warned that withdrawal from Harare could ultimately cost it as much as 10 million Pounds ($ 16.4 million). That takes into account both a fine for missing the match itself and the cost of any subsequent cancellation of Zimbabwe's two Test tour of England in the early party of the Northern summer.
South Africa arrives later in the season with all three countries expected to take part in a triangular One-day series as well as their respective Test campaigns. ECB chief executive Tim Lamb has already said a Zimbabwe withdrawal could have dire financial consequences for English cricket. But, with over 80 per cent of its income coming from the proceeds of international matches, the effect of a South African withdrawal opens up an even more appalling prospect for the ECB.