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England should go

Counties reacted angrily on Thursday night to the government's refusal to offer compensation should the England and Wales Cricket Board boycott next month?s controversial World Cup match against Zimbabwe.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2003 02:13 IST

Counties reacted angrily on Thursday night to the government's refusal to offer compensation should the England and Wales Cricket Board boycott next month’s controversial World Cup match against Zimbabwe.

As cricket digested the implications of the continuing impasse between the government and the ECB, opinion was hardening in favour of England fulfilling the fixture despite reservations about Robert Mugabe's regime.

Seven members of the ECB's 15-man management board said they supported the chief executive Tim Lamb's determination to fulfil the fixture, and many expressed disgust at the government's prevarication.

There was also widespread dismay at the government's late intervention in the matter. Despite claims by the culture secretary Tessa Jowell and leader of the Commons Robin Cook on Thursday that the ECB had been aware of government opposition since before Christmas, the government's position only became clear on December 28.

Prior to that, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the Foreign Office and the sports minister had all declined to offer an opinion on whether it was right for England to fulfil the fixture.

David Collier, the chief executive of Nottinghamshire and a member of the ECB management board that will make the final decision on whether England should travel to Harare, said: "I am bitterly disappointed that the government has not made any move to cover the losses that cricket will suffer if this match does not go ahead. John Howard (the Australian Prime Minister) has said he would do what he could to compensate the Australians so Tony Blair's position is very strange. They only got involved at the 11th hour, and they have left us in a no-win situation."

Privately, county chairmen and chief-executives said it was difficult to see how cricket could bear the costs of a boycott, that could be as much as £1million, and most believe the game will go ahead.

"It's unbelievable that we are talking about staging the Olympics in Bejing (in 2008), which has one of the most repugnant regimes in the world, and we're being asked to make a gesture because we're a cricket team," said one chairman.

Richard Bevan, managing director of the Professional Cricketers' Association, said he thought now that the game would go ahead. Ali Bacher, the World Cup tournament director, said it was unreasonable to ask a cricketing board or sporting body to make a decision on the fixture.

The ECB claims it could face losses of at least £1millon if it pulls out of the match.

Rupert Murdoch's Global Cricket Corporation (GCC), which owns the commercial rights to the tournament, could sue the International Cricket Council (ICC) for breach of contract and the ECB would be liable to cover the costs. The Global Cricket Corporation has paid $550m for the rights to the next two tournaments.

Lamb said a boycott would hit the "softer" areas of ECB operations hardest, including the development of the women's game and coaching in schools. "The board's first responsibility had to be to the interests of the game," he said. "I'm sorry if people think that is not sufficiently moral."

The Guardian

First Published: Jan 11, 2003 00:28 IST