London, May 18 (Reuters): Zimbabwe’s home series with world champions Australia faces the unprecedented threat of being stripped of its Test status on Friday after the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
The sport’s governing body, worried that the game will be turned into a farce after the sacking of Zimbabwe’s top players, said on Tuesday its executive board would take part in a teleconference starting at 1130 GMT.
The conference was organised after the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) snubbed ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed by inviting him to address them in Harare on Monday before withdrawing the invitation at the last minute.
An ICC statement said there had been weeks of behind-the-scenes talks to try to solve the crisis but highlighted the “ZCU’s refusal to defer these matches as proposed by the ICC and agreed by Cricket Australia”.
Matches between Australia, the world’s dominant side, and Zimbabwe are almost inevitably one-sided, but the status of this series came under threat after a player rebellion against their own selectors left Zimbabwe with a second-string side.
Fifteen of Zimbabwe’s leading white players refused to play last month after accusing the Zimbabwe board of allowing politicians to dictate the make-up of the side and of rushing young black players into the side before they were ready.
The ZCU, which follows a policy of promoting black players to reflect the country’s population, first offered to negotiate but then lost patience and sacked the players.
It fielded a young, largely black side which was subsequently thrashed by Sri Lanka 5-0 in an ODI series and 2-0 in the Tests.
ICC president Ehsan Mani said in the statement: “The ZCU has now indicated that it intends to proceed with these matches (against Australia) as Test matches and I have called a meeting of the ICC Executive Board to establish clearly if the ICC directors believe that affording these matches Test status is appropriate.”
He said the issue concerned the integrity of the international game. “The decision by the ZCU to withdraw its invitation to Malcolm Speed was unfortunate.”
The first Test against world champions Australia in Harare is scheduled to start on Saturday, just 24 hours after the teleconference, with the second in Bulawayo slated for May 29.
Former Australia captain Steve Waugh has said the matches would be so one-sided that they would be “pretty close to a waste of time”.