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Breakfast with Frost
Ronnie Irani, England cricketer
Ronnie Irani, England cricketer

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well it's been a miserable winter for cricket fans. Outclassed by the Australians in The Ashes, the England team were knocked out of the World Cup this week. Triumphed against Pakistan but otherwise knocked out in the first round. For the players returning home after months away from their families, it was a cruel irony that their decision not to play in Zimbabwe cost them vital points. They'd come under intense political and moral pressure to boycott the country, in protest mainly against the abuses, of course, of Robert Mugabe's regime, who meanwhile was going off to be lauded in France. In the end they refused to go on security grounds but they paid a heavy sporting price and I'm joined now by one of our players, Ronnie Irani, here with his boss, Tim Lamb the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Welcome to you both.

RONNIE IRANI: Good morning David.

TIM LAMB: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Ronnie, let's start with Ronnie just on the, and then come to the wider points with Tim. Ronnie, these debates that you had among the team, they must have been quite full really because you were dealing with a world issue and your own lives and moral and political, how did the arguments go back and forth?

RONNIE IRANI: I mean, arguments, they were mainly obviously very open discussions at which, you know, they were very emotional at times. It was really tough, from a playing point of view, guys that just want to play cricket, playing the biggest tournament of your life, it was very, very difficult. But, yeah we got through it in the end.

DAVID FROST: Now by the end you actually had come to the conclusion that you would go and play in Zimbabwe.

RONNIE IRANI: We were all asked personally what our feelings were and, you know, I, I obviously took in the issues on the moral side and obviously on the political side as well and in the end, fortunately, the ECB decided for us, but we sort of talked amongst each other and - you know - you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out things in Zimbabwe aren't particularly good and I personally, in the end, just wanted to play cricket. So I felt possibly, you know, if the time came I might go. But it, that doesn't make it a right decision, you know, for me to say yeah we should have gone. The right decision was made and, for the team's sake, the rest of the guys were very concerned.

DAVID FROST: And were you the only person who would have gone or were there others who agreed with you?

RONNIE IRANI: One or two were on the fence but mainly I think I was the only one putting the view across about possibly going. And if I'd gone there might have been other ways to obviously look at the moral side of what's happening in Zimbabwe.

DAVID FROST: And was the deciding point the danger, the security danger, or the moral repugnance of Mugabe?

RONNIE IRANI: The main thing was the security side I would say, from the players' point of view, not just at the game itself, because there's obviously people around the ground, ... some sort of protest, getting arrested, and also back home, your families - we were threatened in every direction possible. But, yeah, it was tough, under the moral issues, the political issues, we were put under pressure from back home, the general concern in England was not to go. All this was on as cricketers we had young guys there who were playing village cricket the year before who were made to have a look at issues which they probably wouldn't have dreamt of. It was really difficult, it was tough.

DAVID FROST: And this is a copy of one of the threat letters that you've brought in today, yes, saying here "our message to you is simple, come to Zimbabwe and you will go back to Britain in wooden coffins." That, that can be disturbing to read I should think.

RONNIE IRANI: Yeah I think, you know, you can look at that in different, we all received sort of, I'm sure at some stage, sort of death threats and bits of pieces of the other people in the public eye and yes it was tough. I mean the main concern of a lot of the guys was back home in England, the threats to your families and the bits and pieces which were carried out and said, you know, we will track you down. And it was tough and a lot of the guys took that on board and they found it really tough, especially as they're young men who the year before were playing village cricket and yet were getting death threats. It was very strange.

DAVID FROST: And of course that was vital, those four points we lost there, was the vital reason why we were -

RONNIE IRANI: In all the discussions, you know, and Nasser rightly pointed out at the beginning, saying if we didn't go to Zimbabwe it is going to, you know, seriously dampen our chances of going through the sixes, which is a massive part of the World Cup. I mean anyone can win it from then on in and we pushed Australia the last four games so who knows what would have happened if we had got through. But it was a major decision at the time, very emotional, it was tough as a cricketer, just a player - you know, that's what we're talking about, you know, those 15 boys who became men over night.

DAVID FROST: Yes, and became international diplomats overnight.


DAVID FROST: Tim, which concerns you most, the security issue or the moral and political issue?

Tim Lamb, chief executive, ECB
Tim Lamb, chief executive, ECB
TIM LAMB: Well as Ronnie says, the decision as to why we didn't go to Harare to play the match was purely born out of security and safety considerations. We were under a lot of pressure from politicians, we were under a lot of pressure from moralisers, many of whom had discovered a moral conscience very late in the day, but I think it is important to stress that it was for reasons of safety and security that we didn't go in the end.

DAVID FROST: And so in terms of the decision having been made, we read a great deal about at the time about one of the things was it was going to cost us millions of pounds. Who is going to get millions of pounds off us for this and why? One match.

TIM LAMB: Well we said all along that there would be some legal and financial ramifications of our not fulfilling the fixture and that remains the case. We don't know exactly how much -

DAVID FROST: But who would sue us?

TIM LAMB: Well probably ICC's commercial partners, the Global Cricket Corporation, but we believe we've got a strong legal case David. We will defend that case. We have to for the benefit of English cricket. And it remains to be seen what sort of damages are claimed.

DAVID FROST: And looking back over this whole sort of, sort of farce it seemed at times, is there anything you'd do differently if you had it over again Tim?

TIM LAMB: Well we had a management board meeting of the ECB in the week and we went through the sequence of events and I think the general consensus was that it's difficult to see how we could have done anything differently David, it was a very intractable, very difficult situation. I think the phrase no win situation could have almost been invented for this particular circumstance. We were damned if we do, damned if we don't, there were a lot of people jumping on the moral bandwagon and the political bandwagon. It's difficult to see how we could have done anything different.

DAVID FROST: Do you, do you think in fact looking over it, that this in fact was a real blow or do you think that in fact it will work out for the better?

TIM LAMB: Well it was a blow because we didn't get through into the super sixes. We should have beaten Australia but clearly the loss of four points, in a match that we would have expected to win, ruined out chances in the World Cup. But at the end of the day, our decision not to send the players was born out of employer's duty of care. And imagine how difficult I would have found it to live with myself if anything had happened if we had sent them to Harare.

DAVID FROST: And you said that you thought this week that you couldn't have done anything differently. Could the government have done anything differently?

TIM LAMB: Well the government say that they have no legal powers to prevent the England team from playing in Harare - that may well be the case. But for them to have come out, as they did on the 28th December, with the first ministerial view on the issue when the schedule had been finalised for the World Cup fourteen months earlier, was a little bit unhelpful to say the least.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you both very much indeed and Ronnie good luck in the next World Cup in four years time.

RONNIE IRANI: Cheers, thank you.

DAVID FROST: Thank you both very much indeed.


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