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Non-white trio 'played under duress'

Nothing is straightforward where Zimbabwean cricket is concerned these days. Less than 24 hours after three of the current new-look Zimbabwe side issued a public denial of weekend reports that they were planning on joining the banned rebels, a local journalist has claimed that the three only did so under duress.

On Sunday, several media outlets carried articles suggesting that Dion Ebrahim, Douglas Hondo and Mluleki Nkala were all on the verge of withdrawing from the Zimbabwe squad.

On Monday, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union issued a statement on behalf of the three, which concluded: "We the undersigned have no intention of boycotting or pulling out of the squad. We are proud to be selected and will fulfil our commitment to Zimbabwe cricket."

But the local pressman, who does not wish to be named, overheard a heated exchange in the team's hotel on Monday which left him "convinced that [the players] were forced to make the statement".

He apparently witnessed Stephen Mangongo, Zimbabwe's new convenor of selectors, shouting at Hondo. "You are being stupid," he yelled. "How can you side with those white racists?"

Mangongo, a known pro-Mugabe hardliner, is a key official at Takashinga, a club closely linked with the drive for more black players in the Zimbabwe game. An administrator of Asian descent met him last week, and the conversation is quoted in today's Guardian. "When this whole Streak issue came up, Stephen looked at me and demanded, 'Are you with the whites or the blacks? You guys must decide'."

There is also confusion surrounding the relationship between Dion and Maqsood Ebrahim. The ZCU statement claimed it was "untrue and false" that the two were related. But that doesn't tally with what Dion Ebrahim has said in the past. "I once spoke to Dion Ebrahim and he told me that he is related to Maqsood Ebrahim," said a local source. "He said Maqsood is his uncle, and now I am shocked that he is denying it."

The demoralising effect events are having on Zimbabwe's cricketers was highlighted by comments from one of their up-and-coming players (who again, for obvious reasons, didn't want to be named).

"It's so sad it has come to this," he said. "I remember when I was 12 or 13, watching a Test match from the nets at the Harare Sports Club and looking at the players on the field, wishing ... hoping that one day I would have the honour of playing for my country and wearing the prized baggy green. My Test cap sits at home now: whether I will have the pleasure of donning it once again is uncertain.

"Why can't I just play cricket and fulfil a lifelong dream of one day walking off the field for the last time while the sun goes down at the Sports Club, take my cap off and leave because it's my time ... Sit in the changing-room and say farewell to all my friends who too have fought for the honour to wear and fight under the baggy green. What a nightmare this is for all of us."