Champions' Trophy go-ahead but tour fight remains

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The Independent Online

The International Cricket Council will offer England some relief tomorrow by confirming that they have no desire to move the Champions' Trophy to another country. It is a significant gesture which demonstrates that the governing body are determined to prevent a potential split in the world game over England's probable refusal to tour Zimbabwe later this year.

The ICC president, Ehsan Mani, will issue a statement emphasising that the two are wholly different issues. He will make it plain that the ICC have no plans to move the tournament, which involves every major cricket nation and is due to be held in September at three English grounds.

Later this week, at the ICC executive meeting in Auckland, England will try to persuade their fellow members that they are a special case and should not be expected to tour Zimbabwe at present. England have yet formally to make a decision but nobody expects them to make the trip. Yesterday, the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, said any tour would proceed "in defiance of Government, Liberal Democrat and Conservative opposition," but reiterated that the decision was "entirely a matter for the England and Wales Cricket Board."

The board would prefer the support of the other members but the pressures at home to boycott the regime of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe will not disappear. It had been expected that cancellation would prompt the move of the Champions' Trophy to India.

England should not take it as a sign that Mani and the ICC are taking sides. They merely want to avoid disruption and recognise that the fall-out elsewhere could be large.

Sympathy for England was dissipated by the events of last year. After the cancellation of the World Cup match between the sides, England pleaded with Zimbabwe to make their 2003 tour of England and promised to reciprocate. Only recently have England taken a moral stance.

David Morgan, the chairman of the ECB, will need all his diplomacy in Auckland. The other ICC members cannot understand why, if it is wrong to play Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe now, what made it acceptable to play them elsewhere last summer.

The Zimbabwean Cricket Union president, Peter Chingoka, will want to extract public revenge if England pull out. That might mean compensation but it might also lead to South Africa withdrawing their invitation to England to tour later next winter. The Champions' Trophy might be safe, but England still face the wrath of the cricket world.