Following the initial plan to tow the ECB line, England's stance is wavering with the intervention of Tony Blair who has urged the England team NOT to play in Zimbabwe. However, the government went on to stress they would not back this stance with financial aid, should England decide to boycott Zimbabwe. This lack of insurance from the government makes the decision all the harder to take with the knowledge that the ICC will certainly penalise England financially should they back out from the fixture. Furthermore, Malcolm Speed, the ICC Chief Executive announced England would not get any points from a decision not to play the game on moral grounds.
The argument has been proposed by many from Clair Short to Malcolm Rifkin and now Tony Blair that President Mugabe, the cause of much of Zimbabwe's suffering, would manipulate the match for his own gain as he is the patron of the national team. In order to maintain the moral high ground, England must demand the match be played elsewhere or withdraw from the fixture which is the opener to the 2003 World Cup held in South Africa.
For the record, I believe England should play the match. If they do not, a number of things will happen that could spell disaster. They lose the chance to pick up valuable points in a competition that is the highlight of every England cricketer's career. The threat looms of being penalised financially by the ICC with a million pound fine. Furthermore, the future Zimbabwe Tour to England would likely as not be cancelled as a tit-for-tat recrimination which would mean further loss of money for the ECB. These, though serious enough, are only the problems that affect England.
What of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe who have suffered under Mugabe? Taking away a match of such great importance and a chance to cheer their team under the spotlight of the global media, would be completely unfair. It doesn't make sense to say that here are a people being unfairly treated so for their own good, we will remove one of the events that may bring some happiness and dare we say it, a distraction for some of them. Furthermore, such an act would punish Zimbabwean cricketers many of whom are the white farmers that Mugabe has targeted with his Land Policy.
As for Mugabe, yes, he might well try and use the World Cup games in his country as propaganda but no one will be fooled. England not playing might encourage the other countries due to play in the country to follow suit which will harm Zimbabwean cricket; itself struggling to maintain its status as a creditable Test playing nation.
I fear the increasing political pressure could well see England forced into a rethink and a decision not to play in the country. I think that would be the wrong decision and both countries have an awful lot to lose if this game does not go ahead.
Editor of Somerset Talk