England opt to steer clear of political poser

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The Independent Online

The England captain Nasser Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher yesterday played a straight bat to questions over the ethics of the tour of Zimbabwe in view of the political unrest in the African country.

Hussain and Fletcher were talking as the one-day squad flew off to Zimbabwe for a five-game series which is seen as a talent-spotting opportunity ahead of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

Hussain stressed that he would not get involved in the politics and wanted to concentrate on cricket. But he also confirmed that the England team would take precautions because of the recent unrest in a country where redistribution of farmland has led to violence.

"We are not going to stray too far from the hotels," said Hussain. "None of the boys are going out there for a holiday, we are going out there to work on our cricket. It's for building together some kind of team spirit, some kind of unity. When I've been to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, we sat down at the High Commission and we get a list of dos and don'ts. I am sure we will be doing that in Harare."

The Zimbabwe-born Fletcher added: "It's very important we go out here to play cricket, we are cricketers and not politicians. I've never been involved in politics. It's up to the politicians to sort it out. Why should cricketers have to sort it out?"

Both Hussain and Fletcher were keen to stress the opportunity being presented to all members of the squad to force their way into contention for the World Cup, particularly with Michael Atherton retired and Alec Stewart and Darren Gough opting out of the winter tours.

"We've got a young squad here which will be added to, but this young squad has got a great opportunity," said Hussain. "The World Cup's a year and a bit away and we've got to build a side for that."

Fletcher also stressed the importance for young players to take the chances presented to them. "We will have a look at each game and there is a good chance they will all get a game, but I am not saying everyone will get a game," he said.

* Hansie Cronje's lawyers yesterday began their bid to overturn his life ban in the Pretoria High Court. The court heard that the former South Africa captain was unfairly treated because he should have had a hearing before being punished by the United Cricket Board. Cronje was suspended after revealing to the King Commission that he had accepted £85,000 from bookmakers to influence the results of matches. He also admitted taking £5 000 to contrive the result of a rain-affected Test match against England.