The political situation in Zimbabwe complicates matters. The British Government has instructed the ECB to cut bilateral ties with Zimbabwe Cricket. In other areas, there is no such instruction apparent. The story there is limited to "pressure is growing on UK Firms". This story on the Sky News website (dated June 25) details some of trade involvement of British firms in Zimbabwe.
As always, there is Cricket - which is being used as a political football (pardon the poor pun) - an instrument to make a symbolic point. What is the material effect of stripping Zimbabwe of full member status of the ICC on Mugabe and co.? Nobody really knows.
The Indian position which David Morgan (soon to be President of the ICC) considers crucial, has been articulated in classic BCCI terms. Mr Shah is quoted by Cricinfo as saying
"We are very clear that we would like to fully support Zimbabwe on the issue of full membership of the ICC,"This kind of clarity throws a hazy, murky, dull, flickering oil lamp of obfuscation on the matter. Caught in a no win situation, the BCCI has done what it always does so spectacularly well - issue a completely unintelligible statement through a person who's command of the English language is suspect. George Bush's press department or the Congress Party's press department would be lost in admiration for this skill (assuming of course that Mr Shah was not speaking extemporaneously).
Beneath all these non-statement statements lies simple electoral math. There are currently 10 full member nations of the ICC. On contentious matters, England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies invariably vote together, while India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh tend to vote together. Zimbabwe usually voted with the sub-continent, as did the South Africans. If Zimbabwe are thrown out, the South Africans will have the swing-vote so to speak. Losing an ally is not good news for the BCCI, but it is not irredeemably bad.
In purely Cricketing terms, the decision to throw Zimbabwe out would be an interesting one if it came to pass. It would also never amount to a purely cricketing decision, for it could be argued that Zimbabwe's decline as a Cricket team is due to the Zimbabwe Cricket Board's handling of top Zimbabwe players since 1999 (which was the high point in Zimbabwe's cricket history). They have lost players to County Cricket, Shield Cricket and the South African First Class league. This policy has something to do with the political situation in Zimbabwe.
The Cricketing argument is a persuasive one - it will free up the future tours program and limit bilateral ODI tours with Zimbabwe (hopefully). It will be good for top level cricket to weed out a team in precipitous decline. In the long run, it will probably be good for Zimbabwe as well, even though they will not see it that way.
The danger of the decision though, is that it is a fairly permenant one. That may be too big a price to pay for something which has purely symbolic value in the eyes of many. It is apparent that England are not interested in kicking Zimbabwe out because they are a weak cricket team. They want to do so to make a point (however feeble) to Mr. Mugabe. If the Zimbabwe situation does get resolved in the next six months or so, where would England stand vis a vis Zimbabwe then? Would they support Zimbabwe's re-entry as a Test playing nation, especially if all the Zimbabwean Cricketers currently playing in England, Australia and South Africa were invited back to represent Zimbabwe? Where would India stand then?
Nasser Hussein writes in his autobiography about the 2003 World Cup, where England suffered greatly due to their botched boycott of Zimbabwe. That episode is a fine example of what happens when Cricket takes on the role of making a political point, when politicians and nations are unwilling to do so. If Cricket is going to do more (and stripping Zimbabwe of full member status would amount to doing more) than say the Indian Government or the British Government or the South African Government, then something is clearly wrong. Zimbabwe have been invited to participate in the Beijing Olympics.
The comparison with the boycott of South Africa does not hold. There, we had member nations taking firm positions unilaterally unlike this instance - where each nation has been hesitant about taking a position. India, Pakistan and West Indies had already boycotted the South Africans, while England decided to boycott them when South Africa refused to accept Basil D'Oliviera as a member of the English touring party on the 1969 tour to South Africa. There was a clear cut reason there, and everybody agreed about it (England and Australia came on board later than all other nations).
The ICC is not equipped to deal with issues of this complexity, and unless every single member is voting for the right reason, and until the reason is absolutely clearly stated, they should not vote to strip Zimbabwe of Test playing nation status. The right reason in my view would simply be that Zimbabwe are currently not good enough to play Test or ODI Cricket bilaterally with the other 9 Test playing nations, and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Currently, i don't think everybody agrees that this is why Zimbabwe should be stripped of full member status.