ENGLAND cricket bosses were yesterday singing a different tune after this paper last week exposed their offer of a £200 000 pay-off to Zimbabwe t
o pull out of a 2009 tour for political reasons.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) yesterday claimed hosting Zimbabwe in May 2009 would cause logistical challenges and impact negatively on revenue.
But ECB chairman Giles Clarke, as exclusively reported by IndependentSport last week, had wanted the tour stopped in order to forestall the political controversy the England-Zimbabwe matches always stir.
Politicians in Britain, New Zealand and Australia have been calling for cricket sanctions against Zimbabwe as part of exhaustive efforts to isolate President Robert Mugabe for alleged human rights abuses.
Britain is expected to toughen its stance against its former colony as it appears Mugabe is set to win a sixth term in next year’s elections.
This has heightened fears that Britain might deny Zimbabwe players or officials visas — a development that would threaten England’s hosting of the ICC World Twenty20 in June 2009.
Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka was in October denied a visa to enter Britain to testify at the hearing of Australian umpire Darrell Hair in London.
In efforts to avert such a damaging standoff, the ECB tried to sweet-talk Zimbabwe out of the tour by offering them £200 000 compensation packaged as development funds.
England also wanted to postpone their tour of Zimbabwe in 2012, while the ECB promised to lobby the Britain to grant Zimbabwe visas for the ICC World Twenty20.
Chingoka rejected the ECB proposals.
In an apparent about-turn, Clarke yesterday claimed England wanted the tour off until Zimbabwe had regained their Test status — which they voluntarily gave up last year because they could not field a competitive side.
The ECB boss said playing just three one-day internationals against Zimbabwe would be unviable and would mean England trying to bring in another side before the ICC World Twenty20 starts a month later.
However, it emerged yesterday that Chingoka had assured Giles that Zimbabwe would be playing Test cricket by 2009.
“I assured the ECB that we will be playing Test cricket by the time we are supposed to tour England,” Chingoka told IndependentSport yesterday. “I reminded him that we had made an undertaking at the ICC meeting in June to be playing Test cricket by 2009 and that’s all minuted.”
Chingoka insisted Zimbabwe would not voluntarily scrap the tour whatever offers were made.
“The FTP compels us to play at least two Tests and three ODIs and we are entitled to go to England,” he said.
“If the ECB have commercial worries concerning our tour, they should take it up with the ICC.”