April 15, 2003

Zimbabwe tour given go-ahead

Wisden Cricinfo staff

The England & Wales Cricket Board will be letting out a collective sigh of relief today after it was announced that Zimbabwe's 10-week tour of England and Ireland, which starts later this month, has been given the go-ahead. "I am delighted we have been given the definitive green light from the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) for the tour to go ahead," said Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the ECB. "This guarantees a full international programme for the summer, including the first-ever Test Match to be held at Durham's Riverside Ground. With Zimbabwe, South Africa and Pakistan touring, I look forward to another great summer of international cricket."

After weeks of anxious waiting for a decision by the Zimbabwean government's Sports and Recreation Commission, Peter Chingoka, the chairman of the ZCU, finally received a telephone call on Friday approving the tour from Anthony Mandiwanza, the commission's chairman.

Chingoka would not confirm the go-ahead until he received the official letter, but a reliable source said on Saturday: "I can tell you that approval for the tour has been received, but it won't be released officially until the Sports Commission letter arrives."

The ZCU have spent anxious weeks awaiting the decision, because it was feared that the government of Robert Mugabe might intervene to stop the tour in response to England's boycott of Harare during the recent World Cup. There had been widespread speculation that the regime might have decided on a tit-for-tat retaliation.

But Mr Mandiwanza told AFP: "We have a clear mandate at the commission in decision-making. And we deal only with sport, not politics." He added that the delay in advising the ZCU was because he had been away, and for no other reason, and he emphasised there had been no input by any government ministry. This was contrary to previous statements from his director-general, Elias Musangeya, who said the matter had gone first to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then to the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture.

The team is scheduled to leave Harare on April 29. They will play two Tests - at Lord's and the inaugural one at Chester-le-Street in Durham - and a triangular one-day series which also includes England and South Africa.