Occupied by illness, reduced by injuries and one test against resurrecting opponents, the cricketers of England had the right to be a little bit attacked feel wandering here last week through the corridors of the Cullinan Hotel. If it feels like they are being besieged at their base in the city center, Nasser Hussain can put their current situation into perspective.
The former skipper of England still suppresses a shudder when he talks about The Cullinan. & # 39; That damn Cullinan hotel & # 39 ;, he called it in his autobiography & # 39; Playing With Fire & # 39; because he was in the middle of one of the biggest crises on the eve of the 2003 World Cup English cricket in modern times.
England would play against Zimbabwe in Harare in their opening match of the tournament in February, but Hussain and others had become increasingly concerned about reports of widespread human rights violations by dictator regime Robert Mugabe. Against a background of widespread food and water shortages, England was called upon to boycott the competition.
At that time, comparisons were made with the game the English football team played in Berlin in 1938 when all the players greeted the match in a line-up with Stanley Matthews de Nazi. It is an image that still has the power to shock. Hussein and others did not want to be on the wrong side of history this time.
Hussein and his team spent several days in the gilt cage of The Cullinan, because the matter quickly turned into a political and diplomatic swamp. South Africa wanted the game to be fulfilled because they wanted the support of Zimbabwe for their bid to organize the 2010 Football World Cup. The ICC was desperate for England to travel to Harare because of the tournament.
Hussain and his team were left with a dilemma. They spent most of their time in The Cullinan and discussed the issue among themselves, listening to pleas from the then ICC CEO Malcolm Speed and from the ECB, who also wanted the players to travel so that they could get penalties from could avoid the ICC and they told Hussain that the moral argument was irrelevant.
& # 39; The guy who really brought me to an end was Speed, & # 39; said Hussain. I told him he should sit in some of our meetings. Jimmy Anderson, however old, who had just come from Burnley, trying to make a decision about politics in Zimbabwe and Mugabe. & # 39;
At one point, Hussain was led to a side room to meet the Zimbabwean players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, who had been smuggled into the hotel after their black bracelet protests in their opening game against Namibia. "Those are two very brave men," the then coach of England, Duncan Fletcher, told Hussain after the meeting.
Other teams also stayed at The Cullinan. Hussain remembers a conversation with Muttiah Muralitharan in the breakfast room where the Sri Lankans were surprised at England's reluctance to play in Harare. "I didn't want to explain our position on my toast and Vegemite," Hussain said.
At the height of the deliberations, England received a letter from a group called the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe. & # 39; Come to Harare and you'll die & # 39 ;, it was said. "How safe are your families back in the UK? Even if you survive, there are foreign groups that are willing to hunt you and your families for as long as necessary, and they will do so in your own country. & # 39;
The letter was a decisive factor for some members of the team and ultimately England said they were boycotting the game for security reasons. They forfeited the game and, after defeats against India and Australia, were knocked out of the tournament in the group stage.
Last week, England went through their last net session here for the second test, Hussain was in the empty North Stand in Newlands and recalled those fraught discussions and the conflict that raged between ideological objections to playing in Zimbabwe and his responsibility for players who saw the World Cup as the pinnacle of their career.
& # 39; Even then I was already thinking how history would rate us and rate me & # 39 ;, he said. "Looking back at what Mugabe did with the country and how that country went and recently, when it was all discussed again after his death, I felt happy with the decision we made.
" Although we I ran into it and got a little hidden behind security, my motive was always about: "I don't want to lead a cricket team in England in Zimbabwe". It was because of what the regime was for and what I had seen and because of speaking with Olonga and Flower. It was not comfortable for me to fulfill that schedule.
also as a captain I also had a responsibility towards other people in that room such as Nick Knight. We then had a pretty good white ball side. It wasn't like this side, but it was okay and that was their chance, that was their World Cup and that was their only chance. I also owed them that they did not look back with regret that they had missed that opportunity. Some still do that. I'm not going to mention names, but some look back and think, "That was our chance of a really good World Cup and we ruined it."
& # 39; It's not about me, but I never looked back with regret. Some people doubt the decision we made, but I think we did the right thing. Sometimes I wonder if we should have moved on and come up more. Perhaps that could have worn me a black bracelet as support for them if they wore it. I finally hidden behind security. Once you receive such a & # 39; n letter, you are very worried and think of your family.
& # 39; The whole time we were in The Cullinan, it felt like we were under siege … locked in hour after hour because we were swinging one way than the other. And I felt that I was personally besieged. I would go from one meeting to another and all try to pull you in different directions.
"It is part of your job as a captain that you have these responsibilities. It's not just throwing a coin and placing a pair of slips. You are an ambassador for your country and when you take on that task, you must realize that things like this happen. If they do that, you have to show some form of leadership. & # 39;