THE England cricket team is to defy ministers and protestors by pressing ahead with its World Cup game in Zimbabwe next month.

The decision was taken unanimously by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) management board at the Lord's ground in London.

The gathering was dogged by demonstrators, who invaded the grounds to chant slogans against the match going ahead.

Led by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, they forced their way into the ground when security guards opened steel gates to let journalists in for a conference.

The protestors took over the MCC indoor school bar, where the news conference was due to be held, forcing a switch in venue to another part of Lord's.

ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said: "We are not, of course, immune to, or unaware of, what is happening in the wider world, but we do not believe it is our role to make subjective moral judgements about the various regimes in the different cricket-playing nations. These are matters for elected governments to consider and take a decisive and early lead."

It was "perverse and inequitable" to expect the ECB to make a symbolic gesture by boycotting the match, he said.

But the board was determined to deny the regime of President Robert Mugabe any opportunity to exploit the England team's presence.

"We will not take part in any ceremonial activities that could imply any support for the regime or be used as a propaganda platform," he said.

Yesterday's decision keeps hopes alive that Zimbabwe's tour of England will still go ahead this summer. Chester-le-Street Riverside ground is due to stage its first Test match as part of the tour.

But Durham County Cricket Club chairman Bill Midgley said he remained concerned for the safety of the England players.