Cricket: Rebels set to have sentences commuted: Martin Johnson on the chances of an ICC parole for Gatting and company

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THE International Cricket Council meets today in the guise of a parole board. Mike Gatting and his 1990 South African tourists, who are banned from Test cricket until April 1995, will discover this afternoon if they are rebels without an escape clause, or, more likely, whether they are to have their sentences commuted.

Alan Smith, the Test and County Cricket Board's chief executive, said last week: 'If you are sent down for something, and behave yourself, you are entitled to some remission.' However, the old lag's analogy could scarcely be more fatuous. Unless Smith is implying that they have been jolly good boys by declaring the money in their tax returns, what we are talking about here is time off for South Africa's good behaviour.

'We have,' added Smith, 'taken soundings around the county circuit, and the general feeling is that it is time to lift the ban.' These soundings must have been pretty selective, as there is no shortage of players around the circuit who feel that the tourists made a straight business transaction, and should be held to it.

None the less, a reduction in sentence is almost certain to be approved, and the only point at issue is whether the likes of Gatting, Chris Broad and Neil Foster will be released on 1 October, and thereby become available for the winter tour to India, or on 1 April, and eligible for next summer's Ashes visit from Australia.

The issue is on the agenda at the behest of the ICC's newest member, South Africa, and if anyone thought that the Springboks would tiptoe back and sit quietly for a year or two after being re-admitted, they can think again. They are pushy by nature, as Smith was reminded no sooner had his announcement that he expected no opposition to England's 1995 World Cup bid left his lips.

Ali Bacher, managing director of his country's United Cricket Board, begs to differ. South Africa is organising a rival bid, and this will also come under discussion today. The TCCB's hopes are pinned on the 1990 agreement that England would stage it on the 'rota' principle, while South Africa's argument is that they were not party to this, and that England has had it three times already.

The other major item is Zimbabwe's application for Test status, which is likely to be passed despite the TCCB's opposition. The board has three separate objections, two of which it does not care to make public. Zimbabwe are guaranteed box-office flops, and the near certainty that England and Australia will concede their right of veto today, means that Zimbabwe's membership would shift the balance of power (5-4) to the non-white nations.

Publicly, the board says it is against because it 'sets great store by playing standards'. The Zimbabwe delegate might therefore care to open the debate by asking how this equates with the first-class status conferred upon Oxford and Cambridge Universities.