ICC calls on England to delay verdict until March

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The Independent Online

January, February, March. For the second time in a week the England and Wales Cricket Board has postponed making a final decision on whether England should tour Zimbabwe. Initially, yesterday's meeting of the ECB Management Board at Lord's was expected to produce a verdict but last Friday it was announced that this decision would be deferred to the end of February when the financial and political ramifications of a withdrawal became apparent to the ECB.

However, Michael Vaughan and his squad for the Caribbean will now have to wait until the end of March before they find out if they will visit Zimbabwe in November. By then England will have played two Tests against the West Indies. Vaughan will be hoping this ongoing saga does not have the same affect on his side as that which led to England's early exit from the World Cup.

This further delay comes at the request of Ehsan Mani, the president of the International Cricket Council. Mani, whose views on England's predicament have so far been unsympathetic, has asked the ECB to share its concerns for the tour with the ICC executive board at a meeting in Auckland on 10 to 11 March.

David Morgan, the chairman of the ECB, will present England's position there and listen to the views of members from the 10 other Test-playing countries and those from the three Associate members.

Morgan is sure to take some flak from the other member countries but through attending he will at least show that the ECB is attempting to be cooperative. The meeting may also give him the chance to win over other members of the ICC with his views.

Morgan's hardest task, however, will be placating the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. Peter Chingoka, the president of the ZCU, has stated on several occasions that Morgan promised England would tour Zimbabwe if they visited England last summer. This assurance was given before Des Wilson produced a paper for the ECB which stated that political and moral issues should also be considered before a tour was given the green light.

Wilson's paper was generally well received at yesterday's ECB Management Board meeting. Though it has not yet been accepted as policy, this support means it is still unlikely that England will be talked into touring Zimbabwe. A compensation payment from the ECB to the ZCU and the postponement of the tour - rather than cancellation - could be the cheapest and most conciliatory way out for everyone.

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