MATTHEW NORMAN'S COLUMN: The Tragic Comedy That Puts Cricket's Ostriches to Shame

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Byline: MATTHEW NORMAN

IF it wasn't for the gruesome, tragic backdrop of Robert Mugabe's monstrous dictatorship, the marathon debate over England's World Cup match in Harare would now be officially recognised as the most hilarious farce in even Britain's sporting history.

For two months and more, this absurd controversy has rumbled on, producing endless supplies of cravenness, buck-passing, hypocrisy and deceit.

Time after time a decision seemed imminent and time after time nothing happened.

Yesterday alone three deadlines for a final announcement were made. And while the England Cricket Board apparently haggled with the International Cricket Council over the legal implications, all three passed in silence.

At time of writing - and it would be a miracle, on this form, if these words aren't out of date by the time you read this - no-one seems to have more than a vague notion that England will, in the end, boycott this match.

If Young Mr Grace had been running the show, with Corporal Jones from Dad's Army, Phoebe from Friends and Benny from Crossroads as his key advisers, it is impossible to imagine a more humiliating fiasco.

One thing is for sure: no-one has done very well.

A Government that chickened out of a simple political decision; an England Cricket Board more concerned with losing money than the millions starving in Robert Mugabe's hell hole; cricketers who lacked the minimal moral courage to do the decent thing until their own safety became an issue.

You'd have to travel deep into the African jungle to find a more impressive collection of ostriches than these.

Of all those involved in this bewildering saga, the one least to be blamed is Nasser Hussain, a man who always seemed to be trying to find the right way through it, but even he was put a little to shame yesterday by two Zimbabweans.

The wearing of black armbands and issuing of a pro-democracy statement by Zimbabwe's captain Andy Flower and bowler Henry Olonga suggested a level of courage and moral leadership seldom seen from any sportsman since the Muhammad Ali refused to serve in Vietnam. …