The black armband protest February 10, 2003

'Death of democracy'

Andy Flower and Henry Olonga launched an unprecedented attack on the running of their country as Zimbabwe got their World Cup campaign underway against Namibia at Harare.

They issued a joint statementjust before the start of the match, and both took to the field wearing black armbands to "mourn the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe".

They went on: "We are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. We pray that our small action may help to restore sanity and dignity to our nation.

"We cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed," the statement continued. "We are aware that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans may even die in the coming months through a combination of starvation and poverty and Aids. We are aware that many people have been unjustly imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions about what is happening in the country. We have heard a torrent of racist hate speech directed at minority groups."

Given the brutal oppression of any opposition to the Mugabe regime, Flower and Olonga's stand took great personal courage. Last week a protestor, Edison Mukwazi, died as a result of injuries sustained while in police detention after being arrested at Zimbabwe's one-dayer against Pakistan last November (click here for Sunday Telegraph report).

Peter Chingoka, chairman of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, said that he was aware of the players' statement but that he was not prepared to speak about it. "We will make a [reaction] statement at an appropriate time," he told Reuters.

It is unlikely that the Zimbabwe government will take action against two high-profile figures, but it will certainly not permit any spectators to make a similar stand.

Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden and now edits