What are the odds?

I saw an awesome day’s Test cricket at Lord’s on Saturday. Jonathan Trott knocked off the run needed to take him to 150 in a record-breaking stand with Stuart Broad, who with his maiden Test hundred seems to be rediscovering his stroke play in timely fashion for the Ashes. England ended on 446, Pakistan were blown away for 74 all out and following on, finished the day on 41-4. For £75 a ticket, I saw a lot of wickets for my money.

Then I got home and switched on the television.

I saw that the News of the World had broken a story (cleverly, too late for other papers to jump on, so all the other Sunday morning cricket reports were purely about England’s superb bowling performance), the facts of which are now burned onto our appalled sensibilities. It concerned a dodgy Pakistan players’ agent, £150,000 in used 50 quid notes, and three no-balls delivered on Days 1 and 2, in varying degrees of obviousness, by Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, with the collusion of captain Salman Butt.

I loathe the News of the World with every fibre of my being. Their offensive, emotive brand of sensationalistic journalism sparks a brand of rage in me not much else does. In a crass opinion piece they not only devalued Broad’s maiden ton but sank low enough to mention his dead stepmother, Miche, to whom Broad’s thoughts turned on reaching his century: “Sorry Stuart, it means nothing.” A small boy, “pulling at his dad’s coat tails full of excitement”, his dreams betrayed, was also mentioned. I am surprised they didn’t manage to shoehorn in a drowning puppy, or accuse the Pakistan team of throwing cats into wheelie bins. Yes, I would think it’s fair to say my loathing for the News of the World is pretty much boundless. To coin a phrase, I wouldn’t wipe my arse with it if it was on fire.

But let us be honest, the evidence looks pretty damning. The only thing that could possibly have looked more suspicious about Mohammad Amir’s first no-ball was if Salman Butt had already had his hands full of sawdust as the bowler began his run-up. And the worst thing about it all is: how much of what we saw in this series, or indeed any other which Pakistan have taken part in over the last few years, is real? Test cricket is in the crapper, attendance-wise, but it does not need this type of publicity.

If there is a tragic figure in all this, it is, by common consensus, Mohammad Amir. Michael Holding was on the verge of tears on Sky Sports as he discussed how the career of this amazing young talent is now in doubt. Ramiz Raja thinks that due to his youth it is “possible he could have been drawn [into wrongdoing]”, and former Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson has reminded us not to judge these players “by the standards of our own country, when their situations are vastly different”. The possible threat of kidnapping and violence towards players’ families has also been mentioned.

Immediate reaction from cricket lovers such as myself ran the whole emotional gamut from disbelief, anger and sadness to “ban the whole bloody lot of them”. But it is clear that there are several things that need to happen.

Firstly, the ICC need to grow a pair. Pakistan cricket is worth saving, but not in its current corrupt state. Past punishments imposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board have been arbitrary and meaningless; vested interests and political manoeuvrings take precedence. Not only does the PCB need to get its house in order, but the ICC need to take charge when scandals like this threaten to ruin the international game.

Sadly, there are those in the ICC who have their own vested interests, and so this will not happen. And let’s face it, it doesn’t say much for the effectiveness of the ICC’s Anti Corruption Unit if it takes a reporter from a red-top scandal rag with a suitcase full of cash to expose only the tip of what may turn out to be a very large iceberg. Haroon Lorgat, the ICC’s current appointed deckchair-arranger, has given a statement saying that if any of the players are found guilty, “the appropriate punishment” will be handed out. At this point, such a promise sounds merely like empty bluster, and pretty meaningless given the ICC’s inability – or unwillingness – to tackle the root of the problem.

Of course, whether Giles Clarke has any right to be on his moral high horse in his refusal to shake Amir’s hand or look him in the eye during the post-match presentation is another question, considering the marked contrast between this and his welcome of a Texan, now being investigated for fraud, and his perspex box of dollars. Stony-faced and unsmiling at spot-fixing’s sullying of this series at the Home of Cricket, he obviously had no problem with Allen Stanford’s sullying of the Nursery ground by landing his gold-plated helicopter on it.

Unfortunately it seems, as with so much else, everything comes down to money – or lack of it, in the case of Pakistan’s cricketers.

While the angry bastard in me rages at corruption, nevertheless, the romantic in me clings to Stuart Broad’s comment that “whatever the true story is, I have absolutely no doubts that Pakistan were giving everything to try to win that match. It was proper competition, as it has been throughout the series”.

So while it may turn out that I have not been the only one who got my money’s worth from this Test I will also remember Trott and Broad’s partnership and Swann’s bowling for what they were – fine achievements that may have been over-shadowed by this story but not blotted out by it. Cricket is too precious to me for my enjoyment of it to be sullied by venality. And besides, there is an Ashes series to look forward to.

Amir bowls

Mohammad Amir bowls (a legitimate delivery) at Lord's

One Response to “What are the odds?”

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