We do not cover up consciences of our cricketers, says ECB

David Morgan, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, yesterday denied that there was any devious planning behind Andrew Flintoff's omission from the England squad who will undertake a controversial tour of Zimbabwe in November.

David Morgan, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, yesterday denied that there was any devious planning behind Andrew Flintoff's omission from the England squad who will undertake a controversial tour of Zimbabwe in November.

The official line from the ECB was that Flintoff, like Marcus Trescothick, accepted the invitation to take a rest while Michael Vaughan's team play five one-day internationals in Harare and Bulawayo. But the Lancashire all-rounder's account of events before the 14-man touring party was announced on Tuesday calls the ECB's statement into question.

In a newspaper column, Flintoff stated that he had told Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, England's captain and coach, of his desire not to travel to Zimbabwe last week.

"We are not in the business of covering up the consciences of our cricketers," explained a defiant Morgan. "It would be nonsense to think that. I have made it absolutely clear throughout that any England player not wishing to go to Zimbabwe for reasons of personal conscience will not be penalised even if they were to develop between now and when England leave."

The validity of the ECB's stance on this issue depends on the timing of Flintoff's conversation with Vaughan and Fletcher. If Flintoff told the pair of his intentions before last Thursday, when the selectors met to finalise the squad, then the ECB should not have stated that he was rested but said that Flintoff, like his close friend Stephen Harmison, had made himself unavailable for the tour.

Conspiracy theories arise since it would have been in the ECB's interest to keep Flintoff's intentions out of the headlines. In continued efforts to appease the International Cricket Council, whom they upset deeply 18 months ago when England's players refused to play a World Cup qualifying match in Zimbabwe, the ECB feels under pressure to send a strong side.

The withdrawal of Flintoff would have reduced the possibility of this because other members of the team would have then begun to question whether it was right to travel, and this could have led to a mass exodus.

The consequences of holding back information would be dire. The ECB, as in South Africa in the World Cup, would lose the trust of the players, which would lead to a repeat of the scenes witnessed at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town in February 2003.

Darren Gough, one of the 14 players selected for Zimbabwe, is already having reservations. The Essex fast bowler shares a county dressing-room with Andy Flower and his brother Grant, two former Zimbabwe players, and their views are certain to influence him. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore black arm-bands to mourn "the death of democracy in Zimbabwe" while playing in the 2003 World Cup and have since left the country. Grant Flower, meanwhile, continued to play for Zimbabwe until accusations of racism in their selection-policy surfaced.

This led to Grant Flower, and 14 other players, refusing to play in a match, an act which led to them being sacked by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union.

An investigation into this dispute started yesterday in Harare. The hearing into allegations of racism in Zimbabwe cricket deals with charges made by the Zimbabwe players. It is presided over by India's solicitor general, Goolam Vahanvati, and a South African high court judge, Steven Majiedt.

The hearing is expected to last three days and the results of the report, along with the recommendations, will be presented to the ICC executive board in Pakistan on 16 to 17 October. Should the ZCU be found guilty of racism, England's tour of Zimbabwe would be cancelled, thus saving Vaughan's side from the trauma which will undoubtedly come.

The first day of the hearing ended abruptly when the ZCU refused to accept a ruling barring some of its officials from being present when the witnesses testified. That ruling had been made after the players' lawyer, Chris Venturas, objected to the presence in the court of officials who had been implicated in the players' claims.

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