Cricket's crisis of confidence

Oh No! Not at Lord's. That was the first thought that crossed my mind on Sunday morning when the story of cricket's latest match-fixing scandal broke across the media outlets. Almost immediately, one hoped that some clever tabloid headline writer wouldn't label it Lord's-gate, leaving a permanent taint on the hallowed home of the game in St. John's Wood.

The first time this writer stepped into that great ground, there was a predictable, yet almost pleasant, onrush of goose bumps — it was the same spine-tingling sensation one felt on entering the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon.

Hard to imagine

Even in an age when cricket's nefarious links to illegal profit-making are clear to most of us, even in an era when the weariness associated with moral futility turns the most optimistic among us into cynics, somehow it was still hard to imagine that this could happen in a Lord's Test match.

When you walked out of Lord's or Wimbledon after a day's play, sated emotionally and aesthetically, it was the same sort of exalted feeling that you might have experienced after a visit to the Musee du Louvre in Paris or the Vienna State Opera house.

And now, this: a mephitic cloud of match-fixing hanging over Lord's. For all the moral outrage so far directed at some members of the Pakistan cricket team, this column believes that in an age when avarice is deemed a virtue rather than a mortal sin, we simply lack the words to suitably express our disgust over the latest allegations.

Avoid finger pointing

Yet, knee-jerk reactions and frenzied finger pointing must be avoided until the investigation is complete and the whole truth emerges. Scotland Yard has not framed charges against anyone so far, not even against the real estate tycoon of Pakistani origin who was arrested by the police following the News of the World exposure.

We must also steer clear of the temptation to turn the scandal into an Us (the rest of the cricketing world) versus Them (Pakistan) issue. While this is hardly the time to speak in defence of the Pakistani cricketers — and this column does have the knack of often getting its timing wrong with counter-intuitive reasoning — the point is, the truth does not always reveal itself overnight on 24/7 television and in tabloid headlines.

Serious study needed

It requires serious examination, patience and perseverance to dig it out. It takes a lot to nuance our understanding of complex issues such as corruption in cricket. And, no matter what might or might not have happened during the Lord's Test, one of the grossest caricatures in cricket is this: the Pakistani cricketer as match-fixer. And the latest scam would certainly see many of us feed on this myth with predictable rapaciousness.

The real issue is cricket's credibility is under threat as never before. And this is not a simple problem with a simple solution — such as banning Pakistan from international cricket for an indefinite period of time.

Others too culpable

The Pakistan cricket team may be a magnet for controversy time and time again with a definite tendency to self-combust, but a Pakistani passport is not essential to get involved in illegal betting and match-fixing — or, for that matter, getting chummy with undesirable elements.

Shane Warne and Mark Waugh did nothing more than pass on Met Office press releases and curators' words of wisdom to bookmakers, but they were as culpable as the Pakistani bowlers who allegedly sent down no-balls on cue — these are not things that amount to ‘match fixing.'

Indian cricket, too, has had more than its share of betting/fixing related controversies. Some of the biggest names in the sport in India — men worshipped as heroes by school children — have had fingers pointed at them more than once. How much hard evidence there was against any of them is not clear — perhaps there never will be any evidence.

While no cricket-playing nation may have the right to claim the moral high ground, it must be admitted that illegal betting is a bigger problem on the subcontinent than it is elsewhere in the world.

Illegal bookmaking in this part of the world is a huge, lucrative business and the investigation conducted by the Delhi Police during the Hansie Cronje affair clearly gave us an idea of how big and organised it was, its tentacles spread well beyond the subcontinent to wherever international cricket is played.

The game is in such a mess at the moment that it is not at all easy to say anything with certainty regarding the possibility of cleaning up all the foul-smelling stuff.

“You will never eradicate fixing from a game of cricket,'' said Lord Condon, former head of the International Cricket Council's Anti Corruption and Security Unit.

The growing cynicism, even among men of commendable integrity such as Condon, the ones who had been empowered to check the menace, clearly points to the ICC's egregious foot-dragging on a serious issue that might lead to the game's demise as a great sport.

For, passivity and inaction are, at times, worse than active collusion. And if the administrators of the game do not respond to the latest scandal with the seriousness that it demands, then they stand to lose their biggest asset of all — the trust of the lay fan.

All relationships are based on trust. And the cricket fan's relationship with the game and its top practitioners is based, too, on the belief that nobody knows what's going to happen in a game, nobody knows who's going to win and how. This belief is the very essence of sport.

This faith has been shaken violently by the tsunami of spot-fixing.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 12:48:58 PM |

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