ICC seek to extend their power after huge defeat in Harare

The Zimbabwe crisis: World governing body want freedom to act after one-sided victory opens up the prospect of farce

Discreet efforts are being made to give the International Cricket Council more authority after Zimbabwe's defeat yesterday by an innings and 240 runs. The ICC have been derided recently for their policy towards the country, but officials have been powerless to act beyond agreed boundaries.

Discreet efforts are being made to give the International Cricket Council more authority after Zimbabwe's defeat yesterday by an innings and 240 runs. The ICC have been derided recently for their policy towards the country, but officials have been powerless to act beyond agreed boundaries.

The issue of broadening the ICC's mandate will be discussed at the executive board meeting in London next month. But the incentive for moving before then is becoming transparent each time Zimbabwe take the field. If the team's weaknesses are agreed to be self-evident, the pressure will grow on all other full members to allow the ICC to do something.

Zimbabwe, containing five debutants, were defeated in the First Test against Sri Lanka before tea on the third day in a predictably one-sided match, which will be remembered because Muttiah Muralitharan broke the Test-wicket record. The only bright spot was the prospect of a possible settlement in the dispute between the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and 15 of their leading white players. A mediator has been appointed, prompting the rebel players to make themselves available for the Second Test next Friday.

Given that several accomplished players had already departed, Zimbabwe are effectively fielding a third team in the series against Sri Lanka, and are shortly due to play Australia. Although there has been no official comment, ICC officials have been fearful of the international game being turned into a laughing stock.

The extent of the ICC's power was put into perspective by their president, Ehsan Mani, last week. He said: "The ICC have no mandate or authority from their members to unilaterally interfere in disputes between the people who govern the game in a particular country and the people who play cricket there. Malcolm Speed and his team have no authority to intervene in this dispute and are unlikely to be given any such authority by the other Test-playing countries."

Speed, the ICC's chief executive, and other senior officers, have had a series of talks behind closed doors with the ZCU that were believed to be "very frank", but public comment has been impossible. The long-simmering row between the players and the union reached a head after the captain, Heath Streak, wrote a letter detailing his concerns about the composition of the selection panel and that the side was selected on racial grounds. The union then announced Streak's immediate retirement, and the players responded by walking out.

The impasse since then has diverted attention from the continuing debate about England's scheduled tour to Zimbabwe in October. At the same time, however, it has also heightened the dilemma. Allegations about the conduct of President Robert Mugabe's government in the country at large, which have fuelled the moral argument about touring, have been augmented by the apparent machinations of the government inside the ZCU.

Amid this, the ICC and Speed have been regularly criticised for inaction at best and promoting despotism at worst. But the ICC can only carry out the wishes of their members and operate in the confines set down for them, while also trying to avoid splits in that membership.

Brendan McClements, the general manager of corporate affairs, said: "The ICC have a certain mandate from members. It was different during the World Cup last year because that was an ICC tournament, but series between two countries are the responsibilities of the individual boards involved."

But it is clear that Zimbabwe are ill-equipped to compete, and the longer they keep being crushed the more the international game looks ridiculous. The fact that Muralitharan took his tally of wickets to 521, overhauling Courtney Walsh's 519, was almost the least of it. Mur- ali was bound to do it against someone.

When Zimbabwe were 18 for 5, New Zealand's 1956 record low of 26 loomed briefly into view. A recovery of sorts to 102 was staged, but the distinct prospect remains of worthless records being set.

Another aspect of the dispute causing increasing anxiety is the treatment of cricket journalists in Zimbabwe. Two have been expelled recently - Mihir Bose of the Daily Telegraph and the South African freelance Telford Vice. The case of Vice, who had all the appropriate accreditation, particularly concerned the ICC.

While the ICC insist that this is a matter for the ZCU to sort out, they are gently seeking more influence, aware that when Australia tour Zimbabwe there will be more reporters present, some from England. If they are not allowed to do their job, it will make the game look even more ridiculous. The Cricket Writers' Club in England and South African reporters have written to the ICC expressing disquiet.

Zimbabwe's team for the Second Test will be announced imminently. If the rebel players are largely ignored by selectors, the cricket world may have to do more than stand and stare in disbelief. The repercussions could be enormous.

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