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Zero hour in cricket

Itai Dzamara

ZIMBABWE cricket rebel players are willing to play only One-Day International matches against Australia, a move that puts the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) in an invidious position ahead of today

‘s ICC meeting to decide the status of matches against Australia.

Five rebel players – former captain Heath Streak, Andy Blignaut, Trevor Gripper, Raymond Price and Stuat Carlisle – yesterday refused to be considered after the ZCU approached them for the test matches against Australia.

The position taken by the rebels has rung alarm bells within the ZCU, which was said to be involved in last-minute efforts yesterday to reach a peace settlement with the players.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) will be meeting this afternoon in England to decide on the status of matches between Zimbabwe and Australia scheduled for tomorrow in Harare.

The ICC this week issued an ultimatum to the ZCU demanding that the local cricket body puts its house in order. ICC chief executive officer Malcolm Speed visited Zimbabwe this week but left in a huff after the ZCU allegedly snubbed him.

Upon his return to England, the world body said Zimbabwe – which has been fielding a weakened side in the just-ended series against Sri Lanka following an impasse with 15 white players – had to field a “credible and competitive first 11” against Australia.

However, Chingoka yesterday denied receiving an ultimatum from the ICC. “We have not received any ultimatum from ICC. The ICC has put an agenda for a meeting tomorrow through teleconference to discuss the status of the matches against Australia,” said Chingoka yesterday.

If Zimbabwe, which was expected to announce the team yesterday, failed to come up with a better squad, the ICC would revoke Test status when the team plays Australia.

Representatives of the rebel players maintained yesterday that they would only avail themselves for one-dayers if selected. “We started training yesterday (Wednesday) and will be available for selection. However, if selected we would only play one-dayers,” said one of the players yesterday.

“We have been instructed not to give reasons behind this decision. I am not sure whether the efforts by ZCU to broker a peace deal with us would have achieved anything by tomorrow.”

Chingoka said: “The players will be selected if they practise and selectors are satisfied with them.”

The ZCU, under mounting pressure to find a solution to the six-week impasse, seems reluctant to publicly make a climbdown from its earlier hard-line stance. The union gave a cold shoulder to Speed, who had come to Harare on the understanding that he would meet both sides and mediate.

The ICC chief, however, met with the players and is understood to have had some informal discussions with ZCU chairman Peter Chingoka and managing director Vince Hogg. It is during these informal discussions that Speed is said to have warned the ZCU on the dire consequences in the event that Zimbabwe would be stripped of Test status.

The ZCU subsequently made behind-the-scenes manoeuvres aimed at seeking reconciliation with the rebel players. The cricket body had announced last weekend the reversal of termination of the players’ contracts.

This week the union invited the players to discuss the matters and find an amicable solution, highly placed sources said.

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