The last 48 hours have turned into a nightmare for the England & Wales Cricket Board. The one thing that the board wanted to avoid from the off was a repeat of the near-farcical scenes which surrounded the boycotted match in Harare during the 2003 World Cup. But that is just what has happened.
The sight of players wandering aimlessly around the team hotel after their flight to Harare on Wednesday evening had been cancelled, as clueless as the accompanying media as to what was happening, and holding meetings to discuss their position, were almost a carbon copy of what went on 19 months ago.
But what was most galling was the supine approach of the ECB, and in particular David Morgan, its chairman. After weathering flak for much of the year over the trip, the Zimbabwean government's decision to ban journalists gave the ECB the perfect escape route. The players didn't want to go, the British public felt likewise (98% voted for the tour to be scrapped in a BBC Radio poll on Wednesday) and at the 11th hour Morgan and his board were handed a get-out on a platter.
Even the ICC, repeatedly cited by Morgan as the only reason England had to tour, wavered and Ehsan Mani, its president, admitted that there would be "a huge amount of sympathy for the ECB after the way this matter has been handled by the Government of Zimbabwe." It was the nearest thing to a green light for cancellation that England were likely to be given. While the situation called for decisive leadership, what it got was feeble indecision. It was as if Morgan was the only person left who continued to believe that England would be punished if they refused to travel to Harare.
Morgan blew it, and lost the respect of many of the players and, if he had any left with them, the cricket-loving public in England. He also managed to be outmanoueuvred by the Zimbabwe government, an organisation with a track record of repeatedly scoring public-relations own goals. The concessions he won were not worth the cost.
Had Morgan seized the opportunity and immediately said that the tour was off, the blame would have been heaped on the Zimbabwe government. By travelling to Harare and continuing discussions with his counterparts on the Zimbabwe board, he backed himself further into a dark and lonely corner. If the Zimbabweans backed down, England had to tour; if they didn't, he was left looking foolish and the matter was still up in the air.
On Thursday morning, his rhetoric grew even more feeble when he said that England's tour would be cancelled unless "a significant number" of the journalists were admitted. What was never exactly a hardline strategy grew limper by the hour.
And in meeting with Zimbabwe Cricket, Morgan did the one thing he always maintained was outside his remit. He played politics. The Zimbabwe board maintained all along that the decision to ban the journalists was taken by the government and was outside its control. That didn't stop Morgan's venture into appeasement.
Predictably, Morgan and his acolytes tried to pass off his efforts as a success during a press conference on Thursday night. The reality is that they represented little more than shameless pandering to a corrupt and tyrannical regime.
In today's Guardian, Des Wilson, who argued against the tour from within the ECB until he got fed up and resigned, said that the current crisis was as avoidable as it was inevitable. "[The ECB] had a well-argued and well-supported strategy for withdrawing from the tour presented to it, and all it had to do was call the ICC's bluff," he wrote. "But," he added, the problem was "a chairman whose main concerns seemed being re-elected for a second term and being acceptable at the international dinner table."
Events of the last day or so leave Morgan's position highly vulnerable and his board widely discredited. When leadership was needed, he was submissive. His position as a credible figurehead for English cricket is in tatters. An increasingly isolated figure, and one with little credibility remaining, his days are surely numbered.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo.