"I think the reality is that England will not tour Zimbabwe in November," Ehsan Mani, the chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) was quoted as saying in Wednesday's edition of The Times.
Mani's comments were published a day before a meeting of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)'s management Board.
However, on Monday, the Board said it was delaying a decision on whether to proceed with the tour until next month.
The British Government has strongly advised the ECB to call off the tour in protest at the policies of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
Crucially however, the Government has stopped short of ordering the ECB to cancel the tour in the way that India banned bilateral tours of Pakistan for over a decade.
Under ICC rules, barring a Goverment ban the only other grounds on which the ECB could withdraw without paying compensation is for security reasons.
But a report by ECB official Des Wilson published last week said moral reasons could form the basis for a withdrawal.
England agreed in March to tour Zimbabwe in return for Zimbabwe touring England in 2003, having controversially withdrawn from a World Cup match in Harare in February last year.
ECB chairman David Morgan confirmed the arrangement, which he agreed amounted to a binding contract, to The Times. "On March 29 I told the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) that we would proceed with the tour provided it was safe to and secure to do so.
But he added, "However, I have since written to Peter Chingoka, the chairman of the ZCU, to tell him that the position has changed in that the United Kingdom Government is now taking a harder line."
However, his words failed to pacify Chingoka who responded by appealing over the heads of ECB chiefs to warn England's 18 cash-strapped counties they could be left with a multi-million pounds bill if the tour did not go ahead as planned.
Morgan, who met with Mani on Monday, stressed that no decision had yet been taken.
"We haven't yet decided not to go. Cancellation would be extreme, postponement would be a middle way. Playing matches at a neutral venue would be another."
Mani, a Pakistani, said the neutral venue option would not be viable. "Pakistan played the West Indies at neutral venues and lost millions as a result in respect of sponsorship and gate revenues."
The ICC is due to hold its next meeting in New Zealand on March 11-12. If that fails to reach a solution acceptable to both England and Zimbabwe the issue could be passed to the ICC's disputes resolution committee.
Meanwhile Australia's Government called on Wednesday for their country's May cricket tour of Zimbabwe to be cancelled. "We'd rather it didn't go ahead," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told in Melbourne. Australian Prime Minister John Howard and British counterpart Tony Blair successfully countered efforts to obtain Zimbabwe's re-admission to the 54-nation Commonwealth during December's group summit meeting in Nigeria.
Howard was instrumental in ensuring Zimbabwe's original suspension after Mugabe was re-elected last March in polls widely deemed to have been fraudulent.
Last week, Cricket Australia, the sports governing body in the country, said it would not let "moral issues" stand in the way of its decision, saying safety and security was the "key issue" on any overseas tour.
Australian cricket officials and players' representatives are due to visit Zimbabwe in March to look at the country's security measures.
ZCU chief Chingoka warns English Counties