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Test pushes ZCU down under
- As allegations fly, Streak and four other rebels game only for ODIs

Calcutta: The crisis in Zimbabwe which, for all practical purposes, was rsolved on Wednesday night took a new turn on Thursday with the five top rebels (who had fallen in line, so to say) deciding they would only be available for the three ODIs vs Australia and the not the two Tests.

The five in question are Heath Streak, Stuart Carlisle, Trevor Gripper, Andy Blignaut, and Raymond Price. Incidentally, the Test series is slated to begin as early as Saturday.

According to The Telegraph’s sources in Harare and London, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) may now have no choice but to suggest a postponement of the Test series. However, it’s to be seen whether Australia will agree to play the ODIs unless there’s a written undertaking that the rebels are going to feature in the XI.

If the ZCU itself does not go public with the postponement bit, the International Cricket Council (ICC) will go ahead with Friday’s teleconference to vote on whether the Tests be stripped of official status. The hook-up is scheduled for 5pm IST.

As reported in these columns on Thursday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, has been playing a key role in trying to get cricket out of this mess.

Agencies add from Harare: The five, who claim they lack match practice to face Australia, were due to join the other 13 in the squad for practice on Thursday, but pulled out at the last minute.

Their lawyer Chris Venturas, said their decision was because of the “Zimbabwe Cricket Union’s failure to respond to approaches we have made for resolving this issue. Their intention to practice was a conciliation gesture,” he added.

Venturas had been expecting a letter from the ZCU lawyer Alwyn Pichanick confirming that all legal action against the players had been lifted. But it did not arrive. The players had already withdrawn their own legal counter proceedings. Because of this lack of communication the players decided not to practice.

“There is no point now,” one of them told Venturas.

The five were instead found talking in a group outside the ZCU offices. They would not say why they were there.

The 12 ‘dissidents’, though, have made themselves available for the three one-day Internationals. They consider these matches to be “not so important,” according to Venturas.

Zimbabwe have been forced to field their team in recent weeks under the heading “best available.”

Should the Tests be downgraded or the tour cancelled the implications for Zimbabwe cricket would be immense. However, they are not likely to be thrown out of Test cricket altogether. Their support base in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies remains strong.

A spokesman for the Australian tour party said he would not be drawn on the consequences of the ICC reducing the status of the Test matches. “That is hypothetical at the moment,” he said.

Venturas said the entire episode has been “highly stressful” for the players and there has recently been “volatile and emotional debate between them, although they remain united.”

No comment was available from the ZCU.

One of the five rebels, who declined to be named, confirmed that they had been selected. “They did include us in a squad of 18 players, probably knowing that the five of us would pull out anyway,” the player said.

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