Flintoff to join Harmison in Zimbabwe tour boycott

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff is today expected to follow the example set by his close friend, Stephen Harmison, and inform England's selectors that he does not wish to tour Zimbabwe. Michael Vaughan's side are due to play five one-day matches in the country in late November and early December and England's selectors will announce their 14-man squad tomorrow.

The Lancashire all-rounder was involved in the controversy which surrounded England's qualifying match in Harare during the 2003 World Cup. Then Flintoff opposed England travelling to Zimbabwe, and little has changed in the country since to alter his position. The week England's cricketers spent in a Cape Town hotel being given conflicting advice will be remembered by many as the most stressful of their careers, and pulling out will avoid being put in such a position again.

The refusal of the British Government to intervene, and the unwillingness of the England and Wales Cricket Board to put the welfare of the players ahead of its relationship with the International Cricket Council, means that a season of unparalleled success will end in controversial circumstances.

The ECB has stated that it will not stand in the way of, or discriminate against, any player who wishes to withdraw from the trip for moral reasons. But it is still hoping that the majority of Vaughan's Champions' Trophy squad will make themselves available for the trip.

The stand of Harmison and Flintoff has ripped apart any hope of team solidarity on the issue. Vaughan had wanted to keep his winning side united and together through this difficult period, but the withdrawal of two of the leading players is bound to have a detrimental effect on team spirit because those who make themselves available for the tour will, over the coming weeks, be constantly asked to justify their decision.