Australia in Zimbabwe 2003-04 April 22, 2004

More Australians may boycott Zimbabwe

Wisden Cricinfo staff

Stuart MacGill - his stance may inspire others © Getty Images

Up to seven Australian cricketers are considering following Stuart MacGill's lead, and may pull out of next month's controversial tour of Zimbabwe on moral grounds.

On Friday, MacGill told Australia's selectors that he could not "maintain a clear conscience" if he undertook the tour, and according to a report in The Guardian, several other senior players are also battling with their consciences.

One of those with doubts is the vice-captain Adam Gilchrist, although he has since confirmed he will travel with the team. Darren Lehmann is also likely to travel. "I did have a few doubts about whether to tour," he told the Yorkshire Post. But if we didn't, it could hasten the end of Zimbabwean cricket, and I don't see why cricketers should be used as political pawns."

"They have been thinking about this for a long time," said the source. "They are concerned about what is going on in Zimbabwe. All players and administrators around the world are concerned for the situation in Zimbabwe."

It is a development that will be of particular interest to England, who have found themselves isolated over Zimbabwe in recent months, but may yet have found an ally in their moral stance. Yesterday the British government effectively washed its hands of the affair, saying that it would not criticise the ECB if the tour went ahead, although the squad is likely to be given a "free vote" on whether they wish to travel.

MacGill, who is currently playing county cricket for Nottinghamshire, has been congratulated on his "strength of character" by the Australian prime minister. And according to Jason Gillespie, he has the full backing of the team, although they would be following the advice of Cricket Australia.

"I don't see how going to Zimbabwe will be seen as endorsing what's going on," Gillespie told The Guardian. "We're going as cricketers to play and promote the game on a worldwide scale; if we can do that it'll do more good than harm." His sentiments were echoed by Mike Kasprowicz and Glenn McGrath, both of whom have committed themselves to the trip.

"I totally respect Stuart's decision," McGrath told Channel Nine's Today Show. "He is looking at it from the political side and I totally agree with that. But I've got a lot of friends that live in Zimbabwe, and I've based my decision more on the locals, and the fact that they're looking forward so much to us touring there."

"I'm just a cricketer and there's nothing political about what I do," Kasprowicz told BBC Wales. "[Cricket Australia] did tell us that, individually, if we weren't comfortable about going, then it wouldn't be held against you. But from my personal position, having just got back into the team, if I didn't go and somebody else did and got wickets, then it might be pretty hard to get back in."

Last night, the ICC gave its first indication that a review of Zimbabwe's international status might have to occur if the ZCU could not resolve the dispute with its leading white players. "International cricket is built upon the best teams from each country taking part," said Ehsan Mani, the ICC's chairman, after a meeting with ZCU officials at Lord's. "It is one of the ICC's responsibilities to ensure that everything possible is done to protect the integrity of the sport and we have had the opportunity to discuss this aspect of the current dispute with the ZCU."

Nevertheless, the ICC refused to be drawn into the political implications of the dispute, and appears to have taken the ZCU assurances at face value. "[The ZCU] has provided the ICC with a comprehensive understanding of the issues involved in the current dispute," added Mani, "and provided assurances and supporting evidence that the dispute is not about race or politics as it has sometimes simplistically been portrayed."