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Zimbabwe bats away talk of neutral cricket venue

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CRICKET Australia has dumped plans to reschedule the one-day tournament against Zimbabwe in neutral territory after the African country's cricket union rejected the idea.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland admitted yesterday that the series could not go ahead and said his focus would turn to Australia's next international: a Twenty20 World Cup match against Zimbabwe in South Africa on September 12.

Mr Sutherland made contact with Zimbabwe Cricket Union chief Ozias Bvute on the phone late on Monday for the first time since Prime Minister John Howard announced a ban on the tour last weekend.

Mr Sutherland had expressed interest in a neutral venue, and South Africa had indicated it was willing to host the clash, but Mr Bvute rejected the suggestion.

A Cricket Australia spokesman said it was made "very clear verbally" that moving the series was not an option for Zimbabwe. "On the basis of that, the series is off," he said.

Zimbabwe Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu was quoted as saying the series could not be played anywhere else.

"That is wishful thinking," he said. "The ICC says Zimbabwe can host the Australians and any other cricket country here."

Mr Ndlovu said he was angered by Canberra's plan to send aid to opposition forces in Zimbabwe. "The Australian Foreign Minister has announced $18million for regime change," Mr Ndlovu said. "We have a process here for the change of government through democratic elections and not any other way. For them to put up that money when we are heading for an election reveals their agenda, but we have a law here against foreign funding for political parties, directly or through NGOs or their embassy."

Mr Howard said he was not keen for Australians to play against Zimbabwe but would not use passport controls to ban players attending the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup.

The Government is aware that a ban on competing against athletes from the troubled nation would be problematic, as Zimbabwean runners, swimmers and shooters compete on the world stage and some have qualified for the Olympics.

Lack of organisation and alleged corruption had left Zimbabwean cricket in turmoil before the cancellation of the tour.

No major cricket nation has toured Zimbabwe since 2005 and local competitions are in ruin.

Most of the country's best players and coaches have quit in disgust. Many are still owed money and some fear for their lives should they return.
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