The decision by the Australian Cricket Board to pull out of their scheduled tour of Zimbabwe next month might have plunged the country's cricket fraternity into turmoil but the Zimbabwe Cricket Union are still hopeful that the tour will be revived.
A visibly dejected ZCU chairman Peter Chingoka told a press conference in Harare on Wednesday that they would try and convince the ACB to reconsider their position on Zimbabwe. He ruled out staging the two-Test and three one-dayer series at a neutral venue.
"We received the news with a very heavy heart, but we are also working very hard to ensure that the tour will take place as originally scheduled. Our position is that there is nothing to fear and that there should be no concerns at all about safety.
"We are terribly disappointed with this development and we are working vigorously for the travel restrictions, which led to this withdrawal, to be lifted. The Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and the Sports and Recreation Commission are both being helpful in this matter and we remain hopeful as there is still time enough to restore the tour," said Chingoka.
Chingoka said that there was still enough time to try and persuade the Australians to change their position. "We still believe that there is sufficient time between now and 11 April to try and get a positive review of the travel restrictions from the Australians. A decision can be made as late as possible because the Australian cricket team is currently on tour in South Africa, which is just next door. We stand ready to host them as scheduled, the grounds are ready and I'm sure that the hospitable Zimbabweans will be very willing to receive them."
Although there had been speculation that the ZCU would approach their South African counterparts with a request to move the tour to the neighbouring country, this has been shot down. Agreeing to move the tour to South Africa would mean that the ZCU are concurring with the Australians that Zimbabwe is not safe to host the current world Test and one-day champions.
"Moving the tour to South Africa is totally out of question because we believe that it is extremely safe for the Australians to visit Zimbabwe at this time. We believe that there is no need to look for a neutral venue."
Australia are expected to play their 2003 World Cup group match against Zimbabwe at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo but they have not yet made a decision on that match.
"We are very confident that there will be no change whatsoever to the World Cup programme where we will be hosting Australia, England, India, Pakistan, Namibia and Holland. The ACB have limited their focus to the tour, which was due next month, and not the World Cup."
Chingoka was not willing or able to reveal the amount of revenue that Zimbabwe stands to lose following the late withdrawal from the tour by Australia. "It's quite a substantial amount of money but I can't reveal the actual figures. It's a significant amount, which would have gone to looking after the national team players, and also we were hoping to use part of the proceeds from the tour to accelerate our development programme.
"Our agent had already worked on the tour itself with regard to television rights and there is obviously a negative impact if we are not able to restore the tour. There is also a question of our sponsors, team sponsors and the series sponsors that we have to address, and various organizations that had also made commitments for boundary-board advertising and other activities. So there is a big impact on us financially."
Zimbabwe had made four overseas tours since their last home series and the ZCU had been banking on the Australia series to make up for the expenditure incurred over the past five months. The national team has been to Sharjah, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India since hosting England in a five-match one-day series in October last year.
There had not been any tour arranged for Zimbabwe between May and October when the Pakistani cricket team is expected. Chingoka was pessimistic about trying to get a replacement series.
"My office is currently looking at trying to come up with an alternative tour but it is with great difficulty. I believe that India will be touring the West Indies, while Sri Lanka are in a triangular tournament with New Zealand and Pakistan. I am not quite sure with the Bangladeshi commitments at the moment but England are definitely out of question. Their own domestic season is due to start soon and they normally do not like to make changes to their programme."