Johannesburg: England’s cricket board officially requested the team’s World Cup match against Zimbabwe to be switched to South Africa on Tuesday because of mounting concerns over security in the strife-torn country.
After weeks of hesitating, the ECB finally backed their players by calling on the ICC to move the February 13 game in Harare, threatening to throw the tournament into turmoil.
The ECB had previously turned down British government requests to boycott the match in protest at Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — accused of rigging his re-election last year and triggering mass hunger by seizing white-owned farms — but changed its mind after the players expressed safety concerns.
The ECB said in a statement that it would “be making a submission to the ICC World Cup technical committee to request that England’s match in Harare on February 13th be moved to South Africa for safety and security reasons.”
Captain Nasser Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher backed the decision, the statement added.
England’s request, prompted by social and political unrest in Zimbabwe, could be considered as early as Thursday by the six-man World Cup technical committee.
ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said in a statement: “Prior to this request from the ECB, no country has sought a review of the ICC decision to stage games in Zimbabwe.”
Should it be rejected, England would forfeit the match, a move which would leave them with only a slim chance of reaching the next round.
Hussain said he hoped England could avoid losing points.“There are a lot of legal people going into these meetings, nothing is definite at all,” he said.
“This has nothing to do with the credibility of the tournament, this has to do with the safety situation in Zimbabwe and doing the right thing about that game of cricket,” Hussain said.
Critics say playing the matches would legitimise Mugabe’s rule at a time when half of Zimbabwe’s 14 million people face food shortages and the main opposition leader facing a possible death sentence if convicted of trying to kill Mugabe.
Television channels in South Africa showed footage of Zimbabwean police shoving observers including diplomats and journalists outside the trial at a Harare court on Monday, giving ammunition to opponents of the match.
Tournament organisers and the ICC have maintained so far that it is safe to play in Zimbabwe and Kenya, warning that teams boycotting matches will face calls for significant compensation from sponsors.
The England players had last week asked for the game against Zimbabwe to be moved but the ECB at that stage supported the World Cup organisers’ stance that Harare was safe.
Aussies remain ‘committed’
Australia were still planning to play their World Cup match in Zimbabwe following a meeting of players and team officials on Tuesday.
The meeting with the Australian High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, which lasted two-and-a-half hours, convinced the players that the political situation in Zimbabwe was not serious enough to jeopardise their safety at the game scheduled for February 24 in Bulawayo.
“There is no hiding from the facts the players do have some concerns about Zimbabwe and what we are trying to do is make sure that they have as much information in front of them before they go to Zimbabwe,” ACB chief executive James Sutherland said after the meeting. “At this stage, we are committed to playing in Zimbabwe.”
Meanwhile, in Nairobi, the Kenya cricket board has urged New Zealand to reconsider their refusal to play in Nairobi later this month, and to halt plans to appeal to Switzerland’s CAS.
The New Zealand Cricket (NZC) wants the February 21 match against Kenya moved to South Africa on safety grounds and on Sunday said it may appeal to the CAS to end the stand-off.
“Our stand is that whatever they will do which is contrary to the decision of the ICC board of directors is illegal,” Kenya Cricket Association (KCA) chairman Jimmy Rayani said on Tuesday.
“The decision by the ICC board is final and irreversible. New Zealand should just accept the verdict and come to Nairobi.
“I have heard of the intention by New Zealand to move to the Court of Arbitration but no official communication has come,” Rayani added.
“I know they will try everything possible to have the match moved, but we will stand firm by the ICC decision.
“I have sent a communication to (ICC chief executive Malcolm) Speed that we will object to any moves aimed at moving the venue of any of the two matches.” (Reuters)