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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 February, 2003, 12:27 GMT

A never-ending farce
By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport

England captain Nasser Hussain
Hussain and his team have been let down by officials

When is a farce not funny?

When it becomes so unrealistic as to be unbelievable.

That is how the England-Zimbabwe fiasco must now be seen.

If the ECB and the ICC were batsmen, they would currently be marooned halfway down the wicket shouting, "Yes!" "No!" "Wait!" "Maybe!" in each other's faces, oblivious to the fact that the stumps were already broken at both ends of the pitch.

The entire World Cup has been overshadowed by a row that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place.

Cricket's governing bodies have handled the sorry episode in a less than exemplary fashion.

Both the ICC and ECB have run screaming from one position to another, waving their hands in the air in distressed fashion, oblivious to the need for strong, unified leadership.

On Monday afternoon a new nadir was reached, as deadline after ICC deadline slipped by with the ECB unable to come to a decision on the Harare match.

THE IMPLICATIONS
If England boycott the match
They forfeit four points, face a big fine and teams retaliating by not touring England
If the ICC cancels the match
England only lose two points, remain in contention for the Super Sixes and escape a fine

Caught in the middle of it all are the England team, whose already slim hopes of lifting the World Cup have been battered still further by the worst possible preparations.

Death threats

While other teams have been in the nets or, Lord forbid, actually playing competitive games, England have been stuck in a meeting room at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town.

On Friday they discovered, almost by accident, the existence of a letter from the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe, making death threats against them and their families.

The ECB had known about the threats since 20 January. Had they told the players? No.

The information came from the ICC's own World Cup Security Directorate - but it seems the ICC itself was unaware of the threats until the ECB told them on Sunday night.

Who is to blame? Pretty much everyone.

From the start, the ICC should never have tried to spread the World Cup across three countries.

This is not the same as holding football's European Championships in Holland and Belgium.

South Africa itself is a huge country with perfect facilities for the tournament - so why attempt to drag Zimbabwe and Kenya into the equation too?

The nature of President Mugabe's regime never really seemed to matter to the ICC.

HAVE YOUR SAY

As when the International Olympic Committee awarded the Olympics to Beijing, morals mattered little in comparison to the millions of pounds at stake.

Potential boycott

And when Rupert Murdoch began making noises about renegotiating his 94m television contract, the ICC's minds were made up.

Operating on the same policy, we have the ECB unable to see past a potential loss of (it says) 10m should Zimbabwe boycott their tour of England next summer.

ECB chief executive Tim Lamb seems to think he has played with the straightest of bats throughout this troubled innings.

In reality he has been swiping blindly outside off stump, unable to see the ramifications of his decisions and content to treat the England team like a bunch of compliant underlings.

Then we have a British government who want the match boycotted, yet who allow British businesses to continue to trade with the Mugabe regime and who refuse to back up their beliefs.

It is the definition of a shambles.





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