Issue is cricket, not politics - Mali
The Zimbabwe issue is not about politics in the country or their ICC membership but concerns the development of cricket there, Ray Mali, the ICC president, told Cricinfo on Tuesday. This marks a major shift in stance for Mali who had, last week, placed the Zimbabwe issue at the top of the agenda for Wednesday's ICC board meeting, pointing to the "worsening situation within the country".
"It's not a political issue, it's a cricket issue," Mali, who later this week will hand over the presidency to David Morgan, said. "We are not the ones to debate on politics. It's not about Zimbabwe's membership in the ICC, either. Not at all. What we are concerned about is how to strengthen the game in Zimbabwe, how to encourage more cricketing interaction with them at any level."
That view was echoed by a senior official of the BCCI currently in Dubai for the meeting. There will be a "serious effort" to understand the situation in Zimbabwe, the official said, and there might finally be an "understanding".
What this indicates is that the Zimbabwe issue, which was expected to be the subject of heated discussion within a divided ICC, may revolve around the status of the game in that country, rather than the status of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) within the governing body. In any case, any resolution on Zimbabwe requires seven out of ten votes in the ICC board and the influential Indian board, which has consistently backed ZC in the past, has made it clear it will stand against any move to revoke Zimbabwe's status as a Full Member of the ICC.
As various 'team camps' work the phone lines ahead of the meeting, there's the whiff of compromise in the air. The deal could involve Zimbabwe remaining a Full Member of the ICC but skipping next year's World Twenty20 so that the ECB can host the tournament. Perhaps even snip ZC's annual funding from the ICC; anything, really, short of shutting the door.
On Tuesday afternoon, the scene at The Westin Hotel told its own story - near the giant glass doors of the sparkling new building, Mali was laughing and shaking hands with Peter Chingoka, the ZC president, and two associates. The two, old comrades, shared a joke on the international media frenzy surrounding the game in that country and walked away together.
Chingoka had, in fact, appealed to Mali in a letter last week. "The rules of natural justice, equity and good conscience demand that a fair hearing would need to be given to Zimbabwe Cricket and that would entail the ICC sending a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe if at all it is warranted from a cricket point of view," he wrote.
Surely, though, even as Chingoka presented an unusually relaxed front and BCCI officials, led by their president Sharad Pawar, assembled here to "go through the papers", some tough talking can be expected on Zimbabwe, at least from the ECB and Cricket South Africa. Both have suspended all bilateral cricket ties with Zimbabwe, and have pointed to a worsening "general situation" that has prevented any meaningful cricket in that country.
The views of players - especially from South Africa, who are clear that they will have nothing to do with Zimbabwe cricket - may be presented. And there could be a significant contribution to the debate from David Morgan, who has already declared that he will back action against Zimbabwe.
Privately, officials within the ICC and the ECB establishment have also pointed to Chingoka's 'close ties' with the political set-up in Zimbabwe and sought to link that with the climate of uncertainty surrounding their cricket.
"Will India take a pragmatic view on this and go with England and South Africa, whose voice, also, may be crucial?" asked an official who is closely involved with the situation. "After all, if Zimbabwe sticks around then everyone will know it will be because of India. India will then take a hit because of that but more importantly the ICC would take a hit and its credibility would, perhaps, be fatally holed below the waterline."
But in the end, the BCCI and its traditional backers - Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - may weigh all opposition to Zimbabwe against the precious vote that Chingoka brings to the table, year after year. And that will mean Chingoka's sunny smile this afternoon will be on show again, same time tomorrow.
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore