Ramifications of Englands decision could be damaging

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: Angry Zimbabwe cricket chiefs on Wednesday turned their fire on England following the visitors' boycott of their February 13 World Cup opener against the co-hosts in Harare because of safety fears. "It's especially disappointing given the successful staging of the Zimbabwe versus Namibia match on Monday which passed off without any incident whatsoever," Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) spokesman Lovemore Banda said Wednesday.

After months of agonising, England finally confirmed on Tuesday that it was boycotting Thursday's match because of a death threat to its players. But the ramifications of its decision could lead to a damaging split in world cricket, with the prospect of tit-for-tat cancellations by both Zimbabwe and South Africa of their respective tours of England later this year. England is now all set to submit an appeal, by the 1600GMT Thursday deadline, to the World Cup event technical committee, asking it to move the match to South Africa.

And the International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed later on Wednesday that the committee would meet in Johannesburg on Friday to consider the issue. But that is unlikely to pacify the ZCU which has been adamantly opposed to England's attempts to move the match. Last week, a bid on behalf of Nasser Hussain's men to take the game out of famine- threatened Zimbabwe was rejected by the committee. However, English cricket bosses say they have "new" evidence. But Banda, speaking to SABC radio, was decidedly unimpressed on Wednesday. "We're disappointed with the ECB's (England and Wales Cricket Board) decision," he said.

"Tickets have been sold and a lot of people were looking forward to this game." Asian giants India and Pakistan have both said they are willing to play their matches in Zimbabwe and are set to oppose any relocation efforts by England, arguing the rules should be the same for all countries. But Indian cricket supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya was keeping his powder dry on Wednesday. "Let us see what develops when this comes before the committee and let's look into it then," he told when asked about the wider consequences of England's actions.

The hard-pressed technical committee, chaired by ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed will have to work out how the points from Thursday's fixture will be split between Zimbabwe and England if they decide not to reschedule the match. As things stand at the moment, England is looking at a maximum four-point penalty for pulling out. But both sides may get two points apiece if the committee accepts England's safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe cricketers Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, who wore black armbands as a protest against the Harare regime in their game with Namibia, could face censure from the ICC. ZCU chief executive Vincent Hogg told that as the statement by Flower and Olonga was circulated at a tournament organised by the ICC, the matter had to be referred to them.

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