There are two blights in 21st century sport. First, the curse of the match handed to the bookmakers — and, whatever cricket men tell you, that is continuing. Secondly, the self-inflicted wound that has allowed public relations officers to come between honest officialdom and the public.
I cannot say when cricket bribery and corruption will next spring into the open but I am sure it will be sooner rather than later. It is too easy to persuade young, or under-paid, or stupid players to take a bribe, allow an advantage to opponents and, whatever reward they receive, enrich the betting fraternity.
My suspicion that bribery and corruption is alive and making a profit is confirmed by the news that three English non-league football clubs are suspected. Clubs in small towns in the south-east with unknown players, small crowds, little ambition. If dishonesty occurs at that level, things have come to a pretty pass.
English international cricket has been blighted by corruption, but it has also been under the unhappy restraints imposed by PROs for nearly 20 years and their influence seems to be growing. India does not have a PR man; very wise.
This week I attended the annual lunch of the Cricket Writers’ Club — best known for its gift in identifying youngsters and voting them, from Fred Trueman to David Gower to Joe Root, as Young- Cricketer-of-the-Year. This year it was Ben Stokes — quick bowler, lightning fielder, quick scorer. One day he will stand tall alongside those giants.
There was also a more important award. Jim Cumbes has been many things in sport — goalkeeper in the old First Division, fast medium county bowler, organiser of sports events for a regional newspaper and former chief executive at Lancashire when they, literally, turned the ground so that the pitch faces the right way to keep the sun out of batsmen’s eyes.
Jim is extremely popular with my profession who made him our Sportsman-of-the-Year. Ask him a question and he gives you the answer. Arrange a meeting and he turns up on time. Give him an award and he makes a neat speech of thanks.
I think it is fair to say that at Old Trafford Jim has turned an ailing county into a place where — in the shadow, almost literally, of Manchester United — fresh life is beginning to stir once more.
With spirited men of honour like Jim no one needs a PRO. He makes his own publicity; you feel when you see him, springing forward in lively fashion aged 69, that all is right with cricket, that old-fashioned values still hold firm and the future is assured.
He is not the only man of virtue still helping to rule this precious game to receive his due rewards.
Geoff Cook of Durham, who encouraged its recent success as First Division champion, is another whose word can be trusted. A cricket person of high principle, it is good to see him taking centre-stage again after an illness. Cricket needs these men, even though it has the money to achieve almost anything.
We may have missed our way because former England captain Andrew Strauss has turned down the chance to be managing director of England. In the years he was a Test player I never had a reason to doubt his honest intentions but he reckons he needs more time before he takes high office.
When sport has the twin burdens of dishonesty and misrepresentation hanging round its neck we cannot have too many of the honest guys and we will rue the day Strauss slipped away.