London: The British government has told English cricket's governing body that it wants them to pull the plug on Zimbabwe's planned tour here next year, The Sun newspaper said Thursday.
The daily tabloid quoted an unnamed government source as saying that ministers had informed the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) that they did not want the tour to go ahead.
"England's cricket authorities wanted assurance from us about what to do and now they have it," the source was quoted as saying.
Zimbabwe are due to play two Tests and three one-day internationals here in mid-2009 and compete in the Twenty20 World Cup, with England due to tour Zimbabwe in 2012.
There was no immediate word from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office, but if confirmed it would signal the latest snub to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Brown stayed away from a key summit of European and African leaders in Portugal last month, saying it would be inappropriate for him to sit down at the same table as the Zimbabwean leader.
The prime minister has accused Mugabe of "ruthlessly destroying" human rights, violently stifling political opposition and presiding over an economic free-fall that has heaped misery and suffering on Zimbabweans.
The Sun's source said the request to shelve the tour means relations between the two countries were now "effectively dead".
"We can't pretend it's not a matter for Government a moment longer," the source was quoted as saying, referring to London's previous position of signalling their unhappiness with England cricket teams touring Zimbabwe while stopping short of banning them from going to the troubled African state.
"It is quite clearly our responsibility to stand up and be counted. No-one should sit on the fence when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe needs to be given clear signals from all quarters that his regime is unacceptable."
The move would also get around the threat of a fine from the sport's governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), as any ECB decision to abandon Zimbabwe's visit would have government backing.
Last May, the former Australian prime minister John Howard ordered his country's cricketers to pull out of a scheduled tour to Zimbabwe, saying it would be a propaganda coup for Mugabe, whom he also called "a grubby dictator".
In 2005, New Zealand refused visas for Zimbabwe's cricketers, preventing them from playing a planned tour against the Kiwis.