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All this was put together with a final on September 25, and a reserve date of the 26th, with October rushing towards us. Only one day of major cricket, the last day of a special Essex v Victoria challenge match in 1991 (when it rained) has been staged as late as September 26 in Britain since 1886. The game’s masters are putting remarkable faith in the advance of global warming. Remember that England gave up staging one-day finals in early September because of morning dew: by late September, equinoctial gales are another intriguing meteorological possibility. Nightfall will come quickly and there will be no floodlights.
There is also the simple parochial point. The best argument for staging such a tournament in the UK is not the immediate cash: it is for England to win it and invigorate public support for their sport in the way the rugby team did by winning their World Cup in 2003. By September, the top English players are scheduled to have played 11 Test matches and 16 or 17 one-day internationals in six months. They will be knackered. What kind of preparation is that?
Unthinkable? Which bit is unthinkable? The ICC has made it plain that safety and security are the only legitimate grounds for countries to call off cricket tours. Apartheid South Africa was a very safe place for white men Notes CAMERA 24/02/2004 1:51 PM Page 18
There are reasons for all the above, mostly involving contractual commitments. And the ECB can blame various other parts of the alphabet for most of them. It was the ICC who scheduled this tournament for September, as the only month when there is regularly no major cricket anywhere. (There is a good reason for that too – the weather is unsuitable in just about every cricketing country: either early autumn, early spring or the monsoon season.) It was GCC (the Global Cricket Corporation, who own the TV rights) who insisted that the tournament had to be restricted to three grounds. And it was MCC who chose not to make Lord’s available.
Then why the hell did England agree to hold the event? Why didn’t they wait for 2006 or 2008, giving time for some of the problems to be sorted and offering a decent chance of success? Although the tournament is supposed to happen in September, my understanding is that the ICC would have been very interested in an English midsummer alternative.
Maybe the Trophy will both happen and turn out fine. Perhaps the sun will shine, the crowds will come and the public will be galvanised. But the objective assessment must be that this has all the makings of being somewhere between a squandered opportunity and a total fiasco.
Not the Nine O’Clock News “The new right-wing military government in South Africa, which seized power yesterday, has announced that apartheid is to be reintroduced. The black population will be stripped of all voting rights and segregation will be reimposed as soon as practicable. The situation in the country was said to be calm and there were no reports of violence. The International Cricket Council has therefore announced that forthcoming tours to the country can go ahead as normal...”
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to play cricket against other white men, as anyone who toured there in the 1950s or 60s will tell you. Issues of morality are irrelevant, according to the nine other countries apparently ranged against England on the issue of whether they should play in Zimbabwe. Do the United Cricket Board of South Africa – of all people – really understand what they are saying?
Of course morality has a legitimate role to play in deciding whether or not a cricket tour can take place. Any contrary argument is contemptible, especially in a game that went through the decades of torment caused by apartheid. The ECB’s position on whether or not to go to Zimbabwe has been incoherent and inconsistent. But consistency on this subject is probably for the simple-minded.
It is true that it is all too easy to get on a high horse about this. I could have a decent stab at writing a powerful newspaper column arguing the moral case against playing cricket in any place you care to name, however innocuous it might seem. (Even New Zealand has dirty little secrets, you know. The UK certainly has.) But, somewhere in the dust, by no means easy to find, is a line that no decent human being should cross. And I believe the wretched tyranny that is Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is now across that line and that no team should tour there.
It is less than 11 years since international cricket became, organisationally, an entity in its own right rather than an adjunct of the Marylebone Cricket Club. Until then, England and Australia had a veto. Many overseas officials claim that, unlike the Aussies, England have simply not grasped that the world has moved on. Notes CAMERA 24/02/2004 1:51 PM Page 19
On the ICC’s own miserable terms, Zimbabwe should fail the test. Visiting teams – in their effective house arrest between airport, hotel and cricket ground – would probably be “secure”. I doubt if the same could be said for any accompanying journalist with a moderately enquiring mind, or even a curious spectator. If sanctions are invoked against England for refusing to tour such a country, it will be the majority, not the minority, who will have earned themselves the contempt of thoughtful individuals across the globe.
Post-imperial blues Whatever the outcome of this dispute, it was evident that by early 2004 England had become something close to the pariahs of the cricketing world: undoubtedly the most unpopular member of the class, regarded by the other countries with head-shaking despair if not outright loathing. The ECB would like to believe this is entirely due to the Zimbabwe issue. It is not.
The cynical explanation for the ICC’s insistence that the show must go on is simply money. (Either that or sex usually explains why people entrap themselves in ethically indefensible situations.) But in this case Anglophobia appears to be an important factor. It is a little mysterious how the country that gave the game to the world got itself so disliked, but it certainly predates the first Zimbabwe crisis that blew up before and during the 2003 World Cup. It is not personal either: other administrators say they get on well with David Morgan, the present ECB chairman.
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