Zimbabwe issue spills over to third day
The debate over the future of Zimbabwe cricket has come down to the wire - and spilled over to an unscheduled third day - with England, determined not to host them for the Twenty20 World Cup, and India, their staunch defenders, refusing to blink right through an entire afternoon of intense boardroom jostling. The ICC executive board's discussion on Zimbabwe was finally "put on hold overnight to enable offline discussions" and will resume at 9 am on Friday.
However, the ball has been put in Zimbabwe's court; the "offline discussions" involve Zimbabwe Cricket coming up with a plan to prove its cricketing credentials. "Zimbabwe have been asked to prepare a plan in consultation with ICC officials on how best they can fulfil their obligations to world cricket, the FTP and ICC events, including the Twenty20 World Cup," an official involved in the discussions told Cricinfo. "The board will agree on a statement based on that framework."
What has become clear over the last two days is that the issue has shifted from Zimbabwe's membership of the ICC to its participation in next year's Twenty20 World Cup in England. The hitch in the latter is the UK government's threat of refusing entry to Zimbabwe's cricketers - which, if acted on, will see the tournament taken out of England.
Officials from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) were very clear at the meeting on pushing ahead with the World Cup, though they did take care not to mention anything about not inviting Zimbabwe for the event. The ECB rolled out their ticket sales figures for the 2009 event and the fact that tickets for most of the matches have already been sold out. "Nobody spoke of a vote because, with India standing firm, the ECB knew they couldn't push it through," the official said.
The pressure was mounted on Zimbabwe by England, represented by Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and Norman Arendse - president of Cricket South Africa, which last week suspended ties with Zimbabwe - to pull out of the Twenty20 World Cup on their own.
However, sources suggested Zimbabwe, who were backed in the discussion by India, represented by Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, and West Indies, represented by Julian Hunte, president of WICB - too would stand their ground. In fact, as soon as the day's session got over, Peter Chingoka and his associates emerged for a quick smoke, with the president of Zimbabwe Cricket apparently angry at the position Zimbabwe has been placed in vis-à-vis framing a plan overnight. "Nobody has told us officially to come up with any plan. This is all happening behind our backs," a Zimbabwe Cricket official told Cricinfo.
Later, a grim-looking David Morgan, the president-elect of the ICC, faced the cameras to answer questions on the day's proceedings, but ended up blocking almost all queries on Zimbabwe. "Some progress has been made and we will return to the subject tomorrow morning," he said, adding that "a considerable amount of time was spent in discussing Zimbabwe."
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore