Zimbabwe's Australia Test series called off

Cricket's 'Zimbabwe issue' was clouded in mystery today after Australia's Test tour of the country was cancelled.

Cricket's 'Zimbabwe issue' was clouded in mystery today after Australia's Test tour of the country was cancelled.

It had been expected that a vote would be instigated following a lunchtime teleconference today at which Zimbabwe's fellow full members could demote their series against Australia from Test to mere first-class status.

But an International Cricket Council spokesman revealed at the 11th hour that the teleconference would no longer take place, following significant developments overnight.

Australia's Test tour of Zimbabwe was due to start tomorrow. The scheduled one-day international series between the two countries are now expected to take place on May 25, 27 and 29.

England have more than a passing interest in the matter, given that Michael Vaughan's team are due to make the same trip this autumn.

The dilemma of whether to bow to perceived public opinion by not travelling to Zimbabwe while it is in the grip of Robert Mugabe's disgraced regime has troubled the England and Wales Cricket Board ever since their initial boycott of a World Cup match in Harare 15 months ago.

But a fresh self-inflicted crisis has the potential to solve England's problem for them, following the Zimbabwe Cricket Union's escalating stand-off with a group of senior players who have made themselves unavailable because of their disenchantment with selection policy.

A rebuff for ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed when he flew out to speak to the ZCU last week upped the ante, and suddenly the world governing body were publicly voicing their concerns about the "integrity of Test cricket".

A hugely under-strength Zimbabwe have already suffered a series of very heavy defeats at the hands of Sri Lanka - and it would hardly have borne thinking about how they might fare against the all-powerful Aussies.

The upshot was that the ICC were today initially scheduled to hold a lunchtime teleconference with the Test-playing countries, after which it was expected a vote would be instigated on whether the Zimbabwe-Australia series should retain its status.

That was all before this morning's surprise announcements, however.

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