England will travel to Zimbabwe for a five match limited overs series in November with their captain Michael Vaughan, but without their best batsman, bowler and all-rounder.
Marcus Trescothick, the anchor of England's one day batting line-up, and Andrew Flintoff, the world's best all-rounder, have both been rested and so will join fast bowler Steve Harmison, who declined to tour on moral grounds, on the sidelines.
Ashley Giles was also offered the opportunity to miss the controversial two week tour, which will begin with warm-up games against Namibia, but the spin bowler, a great friend of Vaughan, said he wanted to support his captain.
David Morgan, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said consideration had been given to resting Vaughan but after much discussion the captain was included in the 14-man touring party.
“After carefully considering the matter, Michael has chosen to lead the team in Zimbabwe mindful of his responsibilities both to his fellow players and to the long-term future of cricket in this country. He deserves great credit for doing so,“ he said.
The ECB has been agonising over whether to tour Zimbabwe at all for much of this year because of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Robert Mugabe regime, but after being warned that the consequences of cancellation could include a heavy fine and a possible, if unlikely, ban from the game, decided to proceed.
Morgan therefore stressed that while neither the ECB nor the players condoned the situation in Zimbabwe as “a member of the global cricket family, we have a duty to protect the integrity of the international game” and therefore had little choice but to pick a strong side.
The omission of three leading players has handed England an opportunity to experiment with new players in a series which should not prove too taxing given the upheavals in Zimbabwean cricket that have resulted in a dozen leading white players being sacked from the team.
Among those to benefit are Kevin Pietersen, the South African-born batsman who qualifies to play for England through residency later this year. The 24-year-old Nottinghamshire player is regarded as one of the hottest English prospects in more than a decade and made a strong impression in representative cricket when he was the outstanding success of the A tour to India last year.
Another to enhance his reputation on that difficult tour was Sussex wicket keeper batsman Matt Prior, who is likely to replace Trescothick at the top of the order. Although Prior is unlikely to supplant Geraint Jones behind the stumps his inclusion will be a further blow to Nottinghamshire 'keeper Chris Read, who has not been named.
Paceman Simon Jones, already a Test success, could make his one day bow and provide Vaughan with the firepower usually supplied by Harmison, while batsman Ian Bell will be keen to follow his successful Test debut at The Oval with runs in the one day game.
Darren Gough, written off by many once again this week, has been given the opportunity to prove that the obituaries of his 10-year international career were premature.
Trescothick, Harmison and Flintoff have all been chosen for the one day tour of South Africa that follows the five match Test series there in January and will replace Pietersen, Prior and Jones.
Kabir Ali, the Worcestershire seamer who has played just one one day international, an abandoned contest with Zimbabwe last year, has also been added to the limited overs leg of the South Africa tour.