Magnificence on the field, mayhem off it

Chaos over Zimbabwe, court rows about broadcasting, strikes in Kenya - how soon the magical summer ends
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The Independent Online

England's contentious tour of Zimbabwe was validated by a simple handshake in another bewildering week for cricket. Every time that Michael Vaughan's side are reminded of their moral duty in the next six weeks before they start their series of one-day matches they may well be advised to point to the photograph of Jack Straw.

The Foreign Secretary was shown shaking hands with Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, a gesture hardly in line with the Government's regular condemnation of his regime. The players would be entitled to ask why they should act as moral ambassadors by boycotting Zimbabwe when Mr Straw is seen not to be doing so.

England's lingering hopes that their trip might be cancelled ended on Friday when the International Cricket Council's hearing into complaints of racism by 15 sacked Zimbabwean players was abandoned. Officials and players had been harbouring the thought that if the tribunal found the allegations proven then Zimbabwe would be suspended from one-day internationals as well as Tests.

Brendan McClements, the ICC's cor-porate affairs manager, said yesterday: "That was always at the extreme end of what might happen." It will be next to impossible for the two-man tribunal of India's solicitor-general, Goolam Vahan-vati, and a South African High Court judge, Steven Majiedt, to find the allegations proven on the written evidence they have.

David Morgan, the ECB chairman, who became involved in selection last week, said he was fully prepared for the outrage to which he and the players are now certain to be subjected. "There will be a lot of questioning abd the pressure that questioning brings but the board has discussed this in detail and at length and we are prepared for it. We know what we have to do and any dissent was absolutely minimal." Morgan himself will go to Zimbabwe.

Any team England sent would beat the current Zimbabwe side, who are hopelessly out of their depth, but Morgan said: "As a director of the ICC I have a respons-ibility to protect the integrity of international cricket. We wouldn't welcome a half-strength international team to England." Yet two weeks ago in the Champions Trophy, England thrashed an inadequate Zimbabwe team, who would have been strengthened by the inclusion of some of the sacked rebel players. That is but one contradiction. The match took place without a whimper of protest, yet nobody has satisfactorily explained the difference between playing Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe or playing them anywhere else.

The argument runs that going there makes you seem to be giving support to a heinous regime. Yet the Zimbabwe team represent that regime wherever they appear, and may be representing a board culpable of racism. And why precisely are England, if they feel they have to play to fulfil ICC regulations, playing five matches when three would suffice?

If the issue of Zimbabwe continues to exact an influence over world cricketing affairs way beyond the team's feats on the field - they have lost their last 10 one-day games - the Harare shambles seemed to reflect the state of world cricket.

Minds should have been taken off it all by the prospect of a wonderful Test series between India and Australia, starting on Wednesday. But a shadow has been cast over that by the fact that television rights have yet finally to be settled. The Board of Control for Cricket in India awarded the rights to Zee TV instead of another bidder, Star Asia. Star objected in court, and since the hearing could not be resolved in time, the BCCI made interim arrangements involving two other broadcasters. But Zee then took their appeal in the Supreme Court - as did the state broadcaster Prasar Bharat - and the court will try to make a temporary ruling tomorrow. Since a contract worth some $153m (£85m) is involved, it may be difficult.

McClements said: "All the ICC need for the series to take place are four cameras for the third umpire to do his job, and that should be possible without broadcasting it to the wider world." In reality, of course, the series of the year needs to be broadcast, and the BCCI need the money.

Meanwhile, nine Kenyan players have gone on strike because of a contractual dispute, and the ICC cannot intervene.

The ICC are under increasing pressure to try to get a grip of things, and although they remain only as powerful as their members want them to be, that would not be easy for them to do in any case.

Anybody who supposes the ICC know what they are doing should have seen their quarterly magazine last week, in which they published their world teams of the year and said that the South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs was West Indian, the Sri Lankan fast bowler Chaminda Vaas was Indian, and were so confused about the origins of the India batsman Virender Sehwag that they put a question mark next to his name. Does anybody know what's going on any more?