Breaking the Ice Zimbabwe, England set for World Cup date


Harare – After 10 years of a rocky relationship triggered by a public fallout, which has its roots in politics that has frozen tours and matches between the two cricket nations, Zimbabwe and England could finally break the ice with a meeting on a cricket field in Bangladesh next year.

The setting could not be any bigger – a World Cup Twenty20 showdown next March ‑ and the mere fact that Zimbabwe has been thrust into a group, which could see them meeting England, is enough to ensure that the blue touchpaper is well and truly lit.

The two nations have not met on a cricket field since England boycotted their scheduled 2003 World Cup fixture in Harare, using the foolish excuse that they were concerned about their safety in Zimbabwe, a move that eventually cost them the chance to progress beyond the group stages of the tournament.

Former Zimbabwe captain, Duncan Fletcher, who was the England coach then, revealed in his autobiography, “Behind the Shades”, that there was more to the drama, associated with the team’s decision not to fulfil their World Cup game in Harare, than just security and moral issues.

“An international cricket team will never be in danger as a group and, in that respect, I think Zimbabwe is a good deal safer than most countries,” Fletcher wrote in his autobiography. “I said ‘Nasser (Hussain, then England captain), on the moral issue, you have to be very careful where you draw the line.

“There are many countries in the world where, perhaps, others should not play sport on moral grounds. What is important is that you speak to other people, if you feel that I could unduly influence you because of my moral obligations.

“Naturally, there was a chance I could be biased. Without being arrogant, I had helped put Zimbabwe cricket on the world map. I captained them to victory over Australia in the 1983 World Cup and played a major part in the country adjusting to international status after it became independent in 1980.

“If England did not go to Zimbabwe, I could be helping to destroy everything that Zimbabwe’s cricket administrators had worked so hard to create.”

Four years ago, with Zimbabwe scheduled to visit England, as part of the ICC Future Tours Programme, the tour was called off after the England and Wales Cricket Board announced that it was cutting all ties with Zimbabwe Cricket and freezing all tours and bilateral programmes.

<p> Zimbabwe Cricket responded by voluntarily pulling the national team out of the ICC World Twenty20, that same year, hosted by England after it became clear that the players and their officials would not be issued with visas to enter Britain.

“Zimbabwe has agreed not to participate in the wider interest of cricket,” Chingoka said in a statement.

“We voluntarily agreed to back out of the World Twenty20 because we were told we won't get visas to England. We don't want to gatecrash where we are not welcome,” Chingoka said in a statement.

“By agreeing to withdraw from the World Twenty20 Zimbabwe have agreed to act in the interests of world cricket, thus avoiding the likelihood of that tournament being moved elsewhere and the added spectre of boycotted matches and possibly strikes by players.”

Zimbabwe were also not part of the ICC Champions Trophy that was held in England this year, which was won by India.

The last meeting between Zimbabwe and England on a cricket field was when the Zimbabweans toured for a two-Test series in 2003, which the hosts won 2-0.

But, now, there is a strong likelihood that the two countries ‑ after a decade of a tumultuous relationship that has been stained by politics ‑ will meet on the cricket field in a ICC Twenty20 Cup match in Bangladesh next year.

Zimbabwe, though, have to qualify first, to make the Super 10 stage, after the ICC gave the top-ranked eight teams – England, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, West Indies, India and Sri Lanka – automatic places the group stage of the tournament.

Hosts Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, which occupied the last two slots on the ICC Twenty20 rankings, have to qualify by playing against Associate countries in two groups in which the two Test-playing nations will be seeded.

Zimbabwe will get their qualifying campaign with a date against a qualifier in Sylhet, Bangladesh, on March 17 and then take on another qualifier in the same city two days later before completing their mission with their third game, against a qualifier, on March 21.

While Twenty20 cricket can brew up a number of shocks, it is expected that both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh will prove too strong for their qualifying opponents and book their place in the Super Ten phase.

There is a probability that Bangladesh could fall, in the qualifiers, and if that happens it could be a huge blow for the tournament and the organisers, as the absence of the hosts usually keep the fans away.

Campbell Jamieson, the ICC general manager (commercial) addressed the concerns about a possible absence of the Bengal Tigers from a tournament, which the country would be hosting.

“It was purely a cricketing decision. The schedule put forward is based on rankings at the end of the 2012 World Twenty20,” Jamieson told Cricinfo.

“With any sporting event in the world, it is great for the event if the host nation goes all the way to the final. The ICC has been fortunate in recent times with both India (World Cup 2011) and Sri Lanka (World T20 2012), where both host nations made it to the final.

“In the Champions Trophy this year, England made it to the final. It is up to the Bangladesh team to make it through to the final. It is in their hands. I am sure that if they perform on the day, they have the ability to do what the others have done before them.”

Zimbabweans will also be hoping that their team can also sail easily in the qualifiers to get a ticket that will see them taking on Sri Lanka in their opening Group B game, in the Super Ten, in Chittagong, on March 24.

Three days later, the Zimbabweans will be scheduled to take on neighbours South Africa before a date against New Zealand on March 29 and the big tie against England, with all the political sub-plots that it carries, coming on March 31.

England are currently under the guidance of Zimbabwe coach, Andy Flower, while Zimbabwe recently parted ways with their English coach, Alan Butcher.

November 2013
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