Consensus on Zimbabwe remains elusive
The contentious issue of Zimbabwe's future in international cricket remained delicately poised on Wednesday with backroom negotiations failing to yield a consensus on the first day of the ICC's board meeting. A compromise has been identified - that Zimbabwe stay out of the World Twenty20 to be held in England next year but retain its Full Member status - but has not yet found acceptance.
It is a deal that will enable the ECB, which is pushing for a sanction of some kind against Zimbabwe Cricket, to be able to hold the World Twenty20 without a hitch but, till the end of the day, ZC remained defiant that it had every right to participate in the event. The hitch is the UK government's decision to bar the Zimbabwe team from the event - a threat which, if carried out, could see the tournament being taken away from England.
"We are very keen and are looking forward to participating in the Twenty20 World Cup," a ZC official told Cricinfo. "There is no reason why we should not be there in England for the event. We believe we have the credentials and the team to take part and put up a good performance. Last year, we beat Australia in the World Twenty20 and that is ample proof of our abilities."
While compromise will suit everyone barring ZC, the Indian cricket board remained firmly behind Zimbabwe with a BCCI official reaffirming that it "would support Zimbabwe to the full, at any cost".
Though the ZC contingent appear confident of emerging unscathed from the Westin hotel on Thursday evening, the very fact that the issue will be discussed in detail - after doubts at one point on Wednesday on whether it should be discussed at all - means that it's not all over.
Intriguingly, a day after outgoing ICC president Ray Mali said the issue was about cricket, not politics, ZC officials - who have arrived here with a lawyer - indicated they would be using sporting credentials to make their case.
Asked about the possibility of Zimbabwe being suspended from limited-overs cricket, the ZC official said, "As far as we are concerned, any form of suspension from any form of cricket is not a valid option at all. There is no reason for such steps to be considered."
Almost a sideshow to the main event is the discord within the South African camp. Over the last week, Norman Arendse, the president of Cricket South Africa (CSA), has adopted a hardline stance on Zimbabwe in suspending bilateral agreements. It appeared today that members of his own board were not in favour of that decision.
"It's a surprise that Zimbabwe is being discussed here," a source in the South African board told Cricinfo. "It should never have been an item on the agenda. Also, where has this question over Zimbabwe's membership come from? This is ridiculous."
Asked to elaborate on the CSA's position on Zimbabwe, the source suggested it had a lot to do with their government's views. "We have suspended bilateral cricket with Zimbabwe, but that does not mean we have cut off all ties with Zimbabwe Cricket. Zimbabweans are still our friends and not our enemies and they understand that. By suspending ties, we mean we will take a re-look at the situation, probably after a season. But at the international level, we will honour all our commitments to Zimbabwe, as per the FTP. There is no doubt that the CSA is with Zimbabwe, but our president, on a personal level, seems to have different views."
Things should become clear on Thursday even though the matter may not be put to vote. A delegate who attended today's meeting told Cricinfo that if it does, Zimbabwe would get at least two more than the four they require out of 10. "There's India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, apart from Zimbabwe of course. And even if Arendse goes against Zimbabwe, West Indies are firmly on their side," the official said.
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore