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England to Host Zimbabwe for First Time Since 2003; Uk Govt Blocked Games in 2008 Over Mugabe Concerns

LONDON: England are planning to host Zimbabwe for the first time in more than 20 years, marking the resumption of cricket ties between the nations, and could invite the African nation as well as Bangladesh to play Test cricket at Lord’s in the coming years.

England have not hosted Zimbabwe since 2003 and last played them in any bilateral series in 2004. The cricketing relationship with the boards was marred by the political situation in Zimbabwe under the Robert Mugabe regime, with England withdrawing from their match there in the 2003 World Cup. The UK Government subsequently instructed England to avoid playing Zimbabwe.

But political relations between the countries have improved somewhat and several other nations have been to Zimbabwe for pre-season tours. Inviting Zimbabwe for a Test match at Lord’s would mark the resumption of cricketing relations between the countries. England are the only one of the International Cricket Council’s 12 full members not to play Zimbabwe in any bilateral cricket during the 2022-27 future tours programme.

The gap between England and Zimbabwe playing a bilateral fixture is comfortably the longest of any two full members, with even India and Pakistan playing a series against each other as recently as 2013.

While England toured Bangladesh for white-ball series last winter, they have not hosted Bangladesh in any format since 2010. But the England & Wales Cricket Board is keen to help galvanise Test cricket around the world to maintain the format’s relevance and is exploring whether there is space to invite Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

In both 2024 and 2025, England are only scheduled to play five Test matches in the home summer. A slot could potentially be found in these years to fit in a sixth home Test match, although during the 2024 home summer the T20 World Cup is being staged in West Indies and the United States.

Lord’s has a staging agreement to host two Test matches a year – which it has done every summer since 2000 apart from during the pandemic in 2020. Ticket sales were strong for the match against Ireland, highlighting the demand for Test cricket at Lord’s even when it does not involve more established nations.

Guy Lavender, the chief executive of Marylebone Cricket Club, confirmed to Telegraph Sport that Lord’s hoped to continue to stage two Test matches a year.

“We are very much looking forward to staging two Test matches at Lord’s in 2024,” Lavender said. “Moving forward, we think there is significant merit in staging two Test matches at Lord’s each summer, both in making best use of this incredible venue, as well as generating strong financial returns to support the growth of the game.”

Bangladesh do not have any matches in England scheduled on the future tours programme, which runs until March 2027. The strong ticket sales for Bangladesh matches during the 2017 Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup, and their one-day international series against Ireland at Chelmsford this year, have illustrated the interest in Bangladesh games in England. A tour from Bangladesh, even for a one-off Test, could also help with the ECB’s attempts to increase engagement with the British Bangladeshi community.

Richard Gould, the chief executive of the ECB, has highlighted the need for the Test game to be vibrant around the world. He recently told the Final Word podcast that the board was looking at ways of “encouraging people not just to play Test but make sure they can pay their players, and pay them well, so that they want to play Test cricket again”.

Source : Newzimbabwe