Deadline day in Zimbabwe showdown May 4, 2004

Rebels to boycott Test

Wisden Cricinfo staff

On the wrong side of the fence. Heath Streak and his fellow rebels have pulled out of the first Test against Sri Lanka © Getty Images

The four "rebel" Zimbabwean cricketers selected for the first Test against Sri Lanka, which starts at Harare on Thursday, have pulled out of the match after the Zimbabwe Cricket Union refused a request from the 15 disaffected players for independent arbitration.

Heath Streak, Trevor Gripper, Sean Ervine and Ray Price had been named in a 17-man squad, but their decision to withdraw left Zimbabwe with a squad of only 13 to choose from. Mark Vermeulen and Vusumuzi Sibanda were later omitted from the final eleven - Vermeulen being ruled out on medical advice.

"The ZCU did not accept our proposals and we do not accept theirs," said Grant Flower, one of those to have initiated the boycott in April. "There is simply no agreement, and on that basis the four chosen for the squad are withdrawing. They have fully agreed to that."

Vince Hogg, the ZCU's chief executive, said: "I am extremely disappointed by their decision. It is very sad that it has come to this."

With Stuart Carlisle, Craig Wishart and Andy Blignaut not considered for the squad, Zimbabwe now face the harrowing prospect of going into the Test series with more or less the same side that was routed 5-0 in the one-day series.

"We're back to square one, we are boycotting again," said an unnamed player earlier, after they threw out the ZCU's offer of non-binding mediation. "In effect, we've had three weeks of mediation, and we believe arbitration is the only route. We're meeting at 10am tomorrow [0800 GMT on Wednesday] to write what will hopefully be our final letter, to say we're rejecting this."

The players had resumed training as an act of good faith, and Streak - Zimbabwe's former captain - had declared his willingness to play if the ZCU acceded to the rebels' requests. But according to a report in The Guardian in London, a source was quoted as saying that the board was not going to be seen to be "bowing down to a bunch of whites - their egos won't let them".

"It was unnegotiable that this matter had to go to arbitration to give it the seriousness and the respect it deserves," said Chris Venturas, the lawyer representing the players. "Mediation doesn't assist in any way. Regrettably, [the ZCU] feel they will pacify us with a mediation process. Even if the mediator finds in our favour on all three points, the ZCU don't have to abide by his ruling."

The players have made it clear that they do not trust the ZCU to honour any assurances it gives. They have been given until May 7 - the second day of the first Test against Sri Lanka - to end their boycott, but face being fired if they are still holding out at that time.

"Most of us are almost at the point where we wouldn't bat an eyelid if they just fired us," one of the players is quoted as saying. "We're not getting through to these guys. If they say they want to mediate, maybe they think we're bloody fools. They're just not getting us. Mediation is going to take another three weeks, and Zimbabwe cricket can't afford that.

"We're all sick of this, but we're standing strong together. It's very simple: arbitration with those three points and we're all back."

Zimbabwe team for first Test
1 Dion Ebrahim, 2 Brendan Taylor, 3 Stuart Matsikenyeri, 4 Tatenda Taibu (capt and wk), 5 Elton Chigumbura, 6 Alester Maregwede, 7 Prosper Utseya, 8 Mluleki Nkala, 9 Blessing Mahwire, 10 Douglas Hondo, 11 Tinashe Panyangara.