Jon Coates, The Scotsman
Scotland's cricketers could be plunged into a political minefield over Zimbabwe after an International Cricket Council committee recommended that the trouble-torn African nation be parachuted into a tournament involving Scotland.
The ICC's cricket committee, chaired by Sunil Gavaskar and including former Scotland captain Craig Wright, proposed that Zimbabwe's suspension of Test status should be maintained until the team can prove they are equipped to play at the highest level.
The only international multi-day cricket played below Test level is the Intercontinental Cup, in which Scotland and Ireland do battle with six fellow associate members of the ICC on a biannual basis. Gavaskar's committee recommended that Zimbabwe join the four-day cricket tournament, a proposal that will go before the Chief Executives' Committee on 24 June.
The 2007-08 round-robin begins this month, and the schedule would have to be adapted to include a ninth team if the ICC Board sanctioned the idea. But if it was deemed that the Zimbabweans should have the same rights as the other teams to host every second game, at least four countries would face a quandary over whether to visit Harare and give credibility to the Robert Mugabe regime.
Australia recently withdrew from a one-day international tour of Zimbabwe on the orders of Prime Minister John Howard, and the idea of touring Zimbabwe has met with a cold reaction among the Scottish cricket community in the past. It is understood that the majority of players and administrators would not be comfortable about visiting the country in its present state.
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Cricket Scotland, said last night: "It would not be an issue for me, it would be an issue for our board, in consultation with the Scottish Executive and the British Foreign Office. It's all hypothetical at this stage but if it became a reality, we would have to look at it and make a decision based on all the relevant factors at the time.
"I would doubt that Zimbabwe will join us in the Intercontinental Cup because the associate nations are already playing too much cricket under their present resources. I believe that is the kind of level Zimbabwe should be playing at, but if the ICC wanted us to play another match that involved foreign travel, we would have to find the time and money to do it.
"Also, we wouldn't make any money out of playing Zimbabwe. So it wouldn't be a commercially attractive proposition for us."
Although Zimbabwe still fulfil a wide range of one-day international tours and competed at the recent World Cup in the Caribbean, they have not played a Test match since September, 2005. Since then, the only national teams who have toured the country in any capacity have been Kenya and Bangladesh.
According to the ICC's Future Tours Program, West Indies are due to visit Zimbabwe at the turn of the year and India next May, though fixtures for neither tour have been scheduled.
At the 2003 World Cup, two Zimbabwe players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, wore black armbands on the field to protest against the "death of democracy" under Mugabe in their homeland. They subsequently emigrated.
In 2004, 14 white players registered their disapproval of the removal as captain of Heath Streak, and Zimbabwe Cricket picked a team of youths in a Test series against Sri Lanka. As the impasse continued, the team's results became so poor that Zimbabwe, under fear of being thrown out of Test cricket, volunteered to cancel a series against Australia, and their Test status was later suspended by the ICC.
The ICC Cricket Committee, meeting this week in Dubai, issued a statement that read: " The committee did not support the return of Zimbabwe to Test cricket until such time as the team demonstrates its ability to perform at a standard that does not risk undermining the integrity of Test cricket.
"In order to be able to judge when Zimbabwe 's performance merits a return to Test cricket, the committee felt the team first needed to continue in its current practice of playing a number of representative four-day matches.
"The committee encouraged the scheduling of such matches against ICC Full Member 'A' teams and Associates with, for example, the inclusion of Zimbabwe in the next ICC Intercontinental Cup."
Gavaskar's committee comprises cricket luminaries in the shape of Mark Taylor, Mahela Jayawardene, Michael Holding, umpire Simon Taufel, match referee Ranjan Madugalle, Tom Moody and Tim May, as well as Wright, who would be one of the players affected by the scheduling of any match for Scotland in Zimbabwe.
The Scots embark on their next I-Cup campaign on 27 June, when they host the United Arab Emirates in Ayr. They won the inaugural title in 2004, since when the trophy has twice gone to Ireland.