Vaughan only touring 'out of duty'

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The Independent Online

England cricket captain Michael Vaughan last night added his voice to the controversy over the forthcoming visit to Zimbabwe by admitting he would have pulled out of the five-match tour had he not felt a duty to lead the side.

Vaughan revealed he had been offered the chance to sit out the five-match trip, which goes ahead later this month in spite of widespread opposition to it on moral grounds, but said he "did not want to pass the buck" by forcing another player to travel as captain.

Without referring specifically to the regime of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, whose record of human rights abuses has been at the root of failed attempts by the England and Wales Cricket Board to have the tour scrapped, Vaughan has made clear his personal opposition to playing cricket in the strife-torn African nation.

"We leave on Monday and I think it is clear we are making a stance in itself because we are not going to Zimbabwe until 24 November," he said. "We go to Namibia for our preparation and fly to Zimbabwe before the first one-day game. It is not a great position for either the board or players to be in but personally I did not want to pass the buck by not going.

"I am going there to lead the team but it's not a tour I am particularly looking forward to. I am looking forward to it being over and getting to South Africa for a real tough Test series."

The first of the five one-day internationals England are scheduled to play is on 26 November. Vaughan and his players will remain in the country for 12 days before moving on to neighbouring South Africa for five Tests.

Although the England party were told they could decline to take part in the Zimbabwe leg and not face penalties, only fast bowler Steve Harmison has withdrawn on political grounds. However, all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who took the option to rest that Vaughan declined, said he would not have wished to go in any event. Opening batsman Marcus Trescothick is the other player who accepted coach Duncan Fletcher's invitation to rest.

Despite opposition from the British Government to the tour taking place, England have been forced to honour their commitment to the international calendar by the International Cricket Council, the game's world governing body, or face heavy fines and possible suspension.

However, despite 10 months of wrangling, the tour was not finally confirmed until last month, after an ECB delegation somewhat reluctantly accepted that the only grounds on which they could pull out without penalty - if there were safety and security issues - could not be made to stand up.

England boycotted their World Cup trip to Zimbabwe last year for safety reasons but since then Australia and Sri Lanka have toured the country without incident. Last month, the ECB sent their director of operations, John Carr, and the players' union boss, Richard Bevan, to assess the situation. They met Zimbabwe's Minister of Home Affairs, police chiefs, security officials and members of the Zimbabwean opposition, but found no reason why the tour should not take place.

Bevan and ECB chairman David Morgan will accompany the team throughout the tour, to enable them to respond quickly to any major developments. Echoing the words of new ECB chief executive, David Collier, Bevan emphasised that the decision to tour did not amount to an endorsement of the Mugabe regime.

"It in no way indicates that players are seeking to condone the situation in Zimbabwe," he said. "The British government has not intervened on this issue and therefore we are relying on detailed assurances received from all the relevant authorities, including the British Embassy.

"Should those undertakings be breached, however, there will be an immediate review of the players' position."

The ECB took their concerns to the ICC as long ago as last January but were warned they faced a minimum fine of £600,000 and the far costlier prospect of suspension from international cricket should they pull out for any reason other than security and safety issues.

The Blair administration expressed moral misgivings about the tour but stopped short of ordering it to be cancelled, leaving the matter to the ECB and the players.

The itinerary was scaled down in June, when the ICC announced the Zimbabwean Cricket Union, locked in a dispute with senior players, had agreed to postpone all its Test matches for the remainder of the year.

But the ICC has remained determined throughout that the one-day games would go ahead as planned.