London: Refusal to shake hands with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe during England’s opening World Cup fixture in that country may land skipper Nasser Hussain in jail, a British daily reported Sunday.
Two years ago, Zimbabwe introduced a legislation making it a criminal offence for anyone travelling in the country to show any sign of disrespect for the president, the Sunday Times reported.
The law has already been used to jail local people for breaches as minor as failing to cheer Mugabe’s motorcade, and critics of the regime say Hussain could be prosecuted if he refuses to shake hands with the dictator.
Hussain said last month that he will refuse to shake hands with Mugabe at the World Cup game scheduled to be played in Harare on February 13.
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tim Lamb had also maintained the team would not play any part in “ceremonial activities” that might be used to bolster Mugabe’s position.
Zimbabwean opposition politicians say the England team will find it all but impossible to avoid being caught in Mugabe’s propaganda net.
However, Lamb dismissed the prospect of any member of the England team being arrested.
“We are not intending to go out of our way to show disrespect to Mugabe, but what we are determined to ensure is that our players are not put in any position where they would give him a platform for a PR stunt,” he said.
Cry of conscience
Meanwhile, halfway across the world, in Adelaide, England’s players said though they are committed to playing in Zimbabwe, they are wrestling with their consciences over conditions in the African country.
“I sat in my hotel room last night watching CNN...and what I saw was very difficult to take in,” captain Nasser Hussain said on Sunday.
“It was very difficult to sit there in your room saying ‘yeah, we should go to Zimbabwe’.
“What we saw out of Zimbabwe was very poor but that doesn’t mean we are suddenly saying we are not going or anything like that.”
However, the England skipper made it clear there would be no going back when he said, “What is important is world cricket says it’s going on, our board says it’s going on, we have signed our contracts.”
The British Mail on Sunday newspaper, however, quoted an England player as saying the team had serious doubts and wanted more information and guidance. “Until we’re absolutely certain that it’s the right thing to do from all aspects, we reserve the right not to play (in Zimbabwe),” the player said.
ECB chairman David Morgan, speaking to the London programme Radio Five Live from Adelaide, reiterated England’s commitment to the Harare fixture, adding that he not seen any signs of doubt among England’s 15-man squad for the World Cup.
“I have had no indication at all and I have been in close contact with the captain, the coach and many players,” he said.
Morgan added that England might not be allowed a replacement for any player refusing to play in Harare.
“The situation now is that all 15 World Cup selected players have signed their player terms and, if any one decided that he didn’t now want to make it, there is no guarantee that we would now be allowed to replace that cricketer,” he said. (Agencies)