ECB fails the one-day test over Zimbabwe tour

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The Independent Online

The $64,000 question is: what is the difference between Test matches and one-day matches when it comes to giving comfort and succour to Robert Mugabe's hideous regime in Zimbabwe?

The $64,000 question is: what is the difference between Test matches and one-day matches when it comes to giving comfort and succour to Robert Mugabe's hideous regime in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe have pulled out of playingTests for the rest of this year, a day or two before they would surely have been pushed by the International Cricket Council, even though that body seems increasingly able to face in as many directions at the same time as it wishes, such are the differing beliefs of its constituents.

When the Test issue went away, it was news that no doubt produced a deep sigh of relief among England's administrators. But now we learn that, far from biting the bullet and calling off the whole tour, they have agreed to play an extra one-day international, making five in all, in addition to a reasonable period for acclimatisation and warm-up matches. Game, set and match to Mugabe.

Once again the England and Wales Cricket Board's way of making this information public leaves a distinctly nasty taste in the mouth. It appears that David Morgan, the chairman, and Tim Lamb, the outgoing chief executive, have made an arbitrary decision and have announced it as a fait accompli. Small wonder that they are facing accusations of speaking out of turn.

This was a decision that surely had to be made by the full ECB management committee, for it is of such far-reaching and dramatic importance. Morgan's deputy chairman at the ECB, Michael Soper is also the chairman of the First-Class Forum, which has already been on a collision course with the leadership of the ECB. He has rightly been loud in his protestations, claiming that this decision was to be taken at the next board meeting later this month.

It looks suspiciously as if Morgan has again been outwitted by Ehsan Mani, the affable, but tough and on-the-ball chairman of the ICC. Morgan appears to have been forced to accept this ICC-led compromise of playing a fifth one-day match and undertaking a warm-up programme. It is hard not to feel that he made his premature announcement in the hope that his management committee would accept it and that this would save him from facing a showdown from within. The dutiful Lamb has stood shoulder to shoulder with him.

No doubt the threat of the ECB being fined and suspended from international cricket if it refused to go to Zimbabwe hung heavily over Morgan in his meetings with the ICC. There are many vested interests within the ICC, not the least the wish of some delegates to cause as much embarrassment as they can to the ECB and English cricket. It would be remarkable if there have not been divisions along the line of colour when cricket's governing body has discussed this issue.

The desire to include Zimbabwe so that the game does not die in that country is eminently understandable. None the less this could now be done at the same time as making a point to Mugabe and his henchmen. England could base themselves in neighbouring South Africa and fly in and out for each match they play. It is fanciful to suggest that England's best players will go, for a number will almost certainly say that this is one step too far. In the end, therefore, they will at best be fielding an A side and its progress will have little bearing on the next World Cup or anything else. If by forgoing the warm-up matches, they are "undercooked" and lose, so what?

We should be told to what extent the ICC twisted Morgan's arm and whether or not they insisted on the warm-up preparations being built into the programme. Peace at any price and to hell with principle is a mistake, as history has shown. If the ECB has capitulated over this, one can only wonder what our own governing body will be instructed to do next. These things do not go away. We need to be told the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To hope for that, though, would be akin to whistling in the wind.

The vexed issue of Muttiah Muralitharan's action will not go away, either. Now the poor chap has been made an exhibition of in Hertfordshire, where he has been bowling to club cricketers with his elbow in a splint. What an indignity for a man with 527 Test wickets to his name. It says much for his sense of humour and enthusiasm that he has put up with it.

Eight years ago I spent two nights on a houseboat on the Murray River in South Australia with two match referees, John Reid, of New Zealand, and Barry Jarman, of Australia. We watched endless videos of Murali and after six hours neither was able to say, hand on heart, that he unquestionably straightened his already deformed, bent arm at the point of delivery.

It is a fair bet that a good number of finger spinners down the years have bowled with bent arms and I agree wholeheartedly with John Woodcock, that pre-eminent cricket writer, and Michael Atherton that spinners should be allowed a certain latitude over this, not least in order to preserve an incredibly important part of the game that is fast becoming a dying art. After that, I shall probably be led off to join them in the stocks.