Johannesburg: England's attempts to have its World Cup clash with Zimbabwe played in South Africa failed on Saturday when the event technical committee ruled against its plea.
The decision means that Zimbabwe is awarded four points for a victory by default while England could also face a huge claim for compensation for cancelling the match, which had been scheduled to take place in Harare on February 13. "The committee has unanimously decided that the concerns raised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) relating to new evidence regarding safety and security are not justified," said Malcolm Speed, the committee chairman and also ICC chief executive. "England is deemed to have lost its match against Zimbabwe and the points are awarded to Zimbabwe accordingly." The points deduction could prove deeply damaging to England hopes of progressing into the tournament's second phase. Although it opens its campaign against minnow Netherlands in East London on Sunday, it still has to come up against defending champion Australia as well as Pakistan and India. England had been due to start their World Cup campaign against Zimbabwe in Harare on Thursday, but pulled out on Tuesday citing security fears in the wake of death threats. Speed said the fact that England had failed to convince police officials of the threat, received from a group called "Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe" and widely dismissed as a hoax, had weighed heavily with the committee. "The committee also received evidence which confirmed that on the basis of the information available to Scotland Yard as at February 10, 2003, the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe did not pose a threat to the families of the England squad in the UK." Committee member Michael Holding, the former West Indies fast bowler, who missed the committee's first hearing into England's appeal on February 6, chose to give his own statement. "I've been through the same thing myself, although it was a different time and perhaps we didn't take these things as seriously," said Holding who added that, after hearing the evidence, he had no choice but to accept the police advice that it was safe for the game to ahead. "They are the professionals," he said. Speed, who said the decision gave him "no pleasure," said that if there was an appeal that, as far as the ICC was concerned would be the end of the matter. The ICC decision was welcomed by Pakistan, which also has to play in Harare. "We support the ICC decision. If the game had been switched there would have been serious repercussions," Pakistan Cricket Board director Chishty Mujahid said. "It would have given other teams the chance to pick and choose matches. Pakistan has no problems with playing in Zimbabwe." On Thursday an Australia spokesman said it was still committed to playing its February 24 match in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo. The committee's decision represented a victory for the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU), which opposed any relocation. ZCU chiefs say they have lost millions of Dollars as a result of Thursday's boycott, but Speed said the question of compensation could take months to sort out. "That will be dealt with in the future, after the World Cup. If it's resolved by May or June I'd be surprised," he said. The ECB's stance has also angered India, Pakistan and South Africa, heightening fears of retaliatory boycotts of international matches in England. But World Cup supremo Ali Bacher, also a member of the committee, said he still wished England "every success at this tournament," and added he did not believe the row over their match in Harare or other off-field controversies, such as Shane Warne's positive drugs test, had cast a shadow over the event. "We wanted all 54 matches to be played but this has happened before when Australia and the West Indies refused to go to Sri Lanka in 1996. "We remain confident this will be an outstanding World Cup."
Death threats hit everyone hard, says England's Knight