Zimbabwe Crisis: Players back down after the takeover

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's cricketers suspended their strike yesterday only 24 hours after the government took over the running of the game. If it was unexpected, it was also essential to preserve the country's Test status and prevent further divisions among other nations.

The characteristic events in Harare were only part of the tumultuous start to the year for the game. The International Cricket Council has called a special meeting in Karachi next Thursday to discuss television rights in India, which could have calamitous consequences for the game's finances.

Of far less significance is India's reported threat to form a breakaway international circuit because they want to play the bigger nations more often. As this newspaper reported last July, the ICC are already drawing up a programme that will ensure just that.

Zimbabwe players' representative, Clive Field, said: "The players feel that Test status is paramount. If we don't have Test cricket we have no jobs and we have no financial security for the players." The government intervened on Friday by dissolving the existing cricket board and installing an interim body. This, however, will still have as chairman Peter Chingoka, who has been terminally discredited in the players' eyes. It was easy to infer from Field's statement that the players felt threatened by government involvement. "No one in the room was under any illusion that this thing is bigger than us now," said Field.

The players walked out on 22 December angry about pay, transport problems and the continued involvement of Chingoka and Zimbabwe Cricket's managing director Ozias Bvute whom they suspect of corruption.

The government's response has been to remove all white and Asian officials and tell the ICC it did not care about Test status. But they also indicated that the contractual dispute should be resolved by the end of January.

As ever, the ICC were trying to meet the wishes of their member countries and preserve the global game. Zimbabwe have never failed in their obligation to present audited annual accounts to the ICC. If they do, funds will be withheld.

The Indian TV rights issue is worrying. India's government is insisting that all international cricket is shown on state TV. Noble in theory it could cost the game hundreds of millions, a much more expensive version of the debate in England. The meeting in Karachi is crucial.

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