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England's tour back on

Published: 7:54AM Friday November 26, 2004 Source: Reuters

England's five-match cricket tour of Zimbabwe will go ahead after a ban on 13 British journalists was rescinded.

An England team spokesman said the players were booked on a flight to Harare from Johannesburg on Friday.

"We would expect the tour to go ahead," said England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman David Morgan.

England were originally due to fly on Thursday but were ordered by the ECB to remain in South Africa. The team spokesman said Saturday's opening one-day match would now be rescheduled.

"The ECB is committed to playing a five-match series," he said. "We will sort out the dates later."

Morgan said he had been informed at a meeting with Zimbabwe cricket officials that the bans had been lifted.

"The whole incident is regrettable but it has been resolved," he said.

Major Anyway Mutambudzi, a senior official at the department of information and publicity, told Reuters the 13 barred reporters had been part of a backlog of applications which had now been cleared.

"The confusion came initially from the fact that people had applied as a group rather than as individuals as is required by our law. We have cleared everyone," he said.

Earlier, a spokesman for President Robert Mugabe said the reporters had been banned because they worked for organisations hostile to the Zimbabwe leader.

"Bona fide media organisations in the UK have been cleared, but those that are political have not. This is a game of cricket, not politics," George Charamba said.

Relations between Zimbabwe and its former colonial ruler Britain have hit rock bottom since Mugabe launched a campaign of chaotic and often violent seizures of land from white farmers, many of whom held dual British citizenship.

Morgan and the ECB's deputy chairman Mike Soper met the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket Peter Chingoka on Thursday to try to resolve the crisis.

Under the International Cricket Council's Future Tours Programme, tours can only be cancelled on the advice of a government or because of overriding security and safety worries.

Teams pulling out for any other reason risk a $2 million fine and suspension from the international game.

ECB director of operations John Carr, who had travelled to Harare with Morgan, was scheduled to brief the England team on Thursday.

Top strike bowler Steve Harmison boycotted the tour before the squad was announced and several players, including captain Michael Vaughan, aired reservations before the latest crisis.