England intend to make their controversial cricket tour of Zimbabwe later this year. The dramatic about-turn, after months of hints that cancellation was imminent, has been prompted by the International Cricket Council's explicit threat of a suspension that would financially cripple the English professional game.
David Morgan, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said that the trip was likely to proceed as planned in October. "The only way that I can see us not fulfilling the tour is either because of government directive or because of safety and security, and let me emphasise we don't see them as being issues at the moment," he said.
The reason for the move is simple. If England boycott the tour, they face ruin. The prospect has been raised for the first time of England's suspension for the summer of next year, when the Ashes series is due to take place. Suspension would cost millions of pounds, bring the ECB to their knees financially and disrupt the international programme for years. However, England may still have trouble in persuading some of their players to go to Zimbabwe, and will allow individuals to make up their own minds.
If the ECB's change of heart is understandable, given the implacable stance taken by the ICC and all the nine full member countries, it is at odds with their carefully managed but unofficial policy so far.
The issue has been lent further pungency by the cricketing crisis in Zimbabwe caused by a rift between the players and their ruling body. Many senior team members, angry about perceived political interference in selection and the sacking of their captain, Heath Streak, have threatened to quit. They have given the Zimbabwe Cricket Union until Wednesday to meet their demands.
It is, at the least, embarrassing for the ICC, who have supported Zimbabwean cricket throughout and who resist any suggestion that there should be a political or moral element in deciding where cricket should be played.
England's management board meet next week but will not formally decide until May after another meeting with the Government, who have expressed disapproval. The ECB feel they have been put in an impossible position after their proposal to the ICC that they were a special case was rejected.
Morgan, a thoughtful and diplomatic negotiator, is aware of the opprobrium likely to be heaped on English cricket at home if they tour. "I do accept that if we decide to go there would be a great deal of pressure and demonstration," he said. "But I think we have to do what's right, and once the decision is taken we would seek to stay with it. I think that if our decision is to go it would be for very good reasons."
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