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Security Concerns Ground English Cricket Team - 2003-02-11

It appears almost certain that the English cricket team will not be going to Zimbabwe for a World Cup match on Thursday. But it is still not clear whether England will forfeit the match or succeed in a final attempt to have it moved to another location.

Another day, another delay in reaching a final decision on the England-Zimbabwe match scheduled for Thursday in Harare. But the English Cricket Board (ECB) has essentially put the ball back in the hands of the International Cricket Council, which ruled days ago that the match should go ahead despite the English team's security concerns.

The ECB, however, has renewed its application to have the match moved to South Africa. English team captain Nasser Hussain confirmed reports that the team had received death threats from a group calling itself the "Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe."

Mr. Hussain says some of the players are taking the threats seriously and some are not. South African security services have dismissed the letter as a hoax. But ECB President Tim Lamb said management believes it represents a serious threat to the safety and security of the team. "In the light of this new information, we submitted to ICC that the only reasonable course of action open to them was to relocate the fixture to a safe and secure venue outside of Zimbabwe."

Mr. Lamb says the ICC still has to provide a final written response to the ECB request, which he expects sometime Tuesday morning. In the meantime, the English team plans to keep practicing in Cape Town.

ICC officials have issued an increasingly angry-sounding set of statements urging the English team to make up their minds about whether they will play in Zimbabwe. Before the new information came to light, team captain Nasser Hussain said the players themselves had been meeting to try to reach a painful decision about whether to forfeit the match. "It was a very emotional, very heated meeting," he said. "There were people in tears earlier. There were people trying to weigh up all the difficult decisions we have to make."

If the ICC rules the match cannot be relocated and the English team refuses to play in Zimbabwe it could lose four tournament points, making it much harder for the team to advance to the second round in a very competitive pool.

That would also put Zimbabwe in front with two wins, after the team won its opening match Monday over Namibia. In Harare, Zimbabwean captain Heath Streak expressed disappointment when he heard the England match would almost certainly be canceled. "Obviously we as players were hoping that all six matches would go ahead here in Zimbabwe, and obviously that's not to be," he says. "So disappointment that we haven't been able to fulfil that fixture."

Mr. Streak spoke to reporters after his side soundly defeated an inexperienced Namibian side in a match repeatedly interrupted by rain. There was tight security around the ground at the match, and Zimbabwean police broke up a small protest by civil rights activists about two-kilometers away.

The only protest visible at the cricket stadium came from two of Zimbabwe's most prominent cricket players, who wore black armbands as a symbolic gesture of mourning for what they called "the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe.

Groundbreaking fast bowler Henry Olonga and world-reknowned batsman Andy Flower issued a surprise protest statement just before the day's play began. They said "it is impossible to ignore" the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and they did not feel they could take to the field without telling the world how "deeply distressed" they are about it.

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union has asked a committee to decide what action, if any, will be taken against the players.