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|Aussie cricket chiefs begin crucial tour of Zim|
Wednesday, March 3 2004 16:23 Hrs (IST)
While England's October-November tour will be based on moral grounds over the human rights abuses perpetrated by President Robert Mugabe's regime - a final decision will be taken later this month at an International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting in New Zealand - Australia are simply basing theirs on the security situation.
The two envoys, general manager(operations) Michael Brown and Board member Tim May are to pay special attention at the security surrounding the grounds, hotels and airports.
They met with the Australian ambassador, the minister for sport and police commissioners. They were accompanied by Stephen Bennett of the Australian Cricketers' Association.
Their itinerary was prepared by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) who are anxious for Australia to come for the two Test series and three One-day International matches to be played in Harare and in Bulawayo.
The trio will be in Bulawayo on Wednesday to examine the Queens Sports Club ground and speak to police, who arrested several people outside the ground after the Australia match last year after demonstrating against Mugabe.
While England declined to go through with its World Cup fixture in Harare last year and forfeited the points which might have got them into the final stages, Australia dashed in and out of Bulawayo to play their match, staying for only the shortest time practicable.
Brown indicated they were only interested in playing cricket and satisfying themselves there would be no danger to players and officials.
They had no brief to consider politics, he pointed out. "We are looking forward to coming" he said at a news conference. "We have an obligation to the ICC to ful-fill the fixture."
His general comments would indicate a positive approach to the tour. Brown said they would be making a full report to Cricket Australia in about a week's time.
He was given an assurance by Vincent Hogg, chief executive of the ZCU and the media manager Lovemore Banda, that Australian journalists who are "accredited cricket writers" will have no trouble getting into the country.
What concerns the Zimbabwe authorities, however, is the possibility of other journalists arriving under the guise of "cricket writer." As to Australian supporters, Brown referred to their good rapport with Zimbabweans in Bulawayo.
But he declared himself "unqualified" to answer a question about what might happen to one of them taking pictures of a food distribution centre partly funded by Australian taxpayers.
Brown was careful to avoid dealing with all questions outside the strict confines of player safety. This was a similar approach to the one adopted by Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the ICC ahead of the World Cup last February.
It seems likely that Australia will meet their fixture obligation in ten weeks time.
Australia delegation off to Zimbabwe