Monday, August 30, 2010

Pakistan Plunge Cricket Into New Scandal

Salman Butt

So England won the test series against Pakistan 3-1, and at times looked to be in quite devastating form, especially with the ball, but after spot-fixing allegations were made in the News Of The World yesterday against numerous members of the Pakistan team we were all left wondering if we beat a team fairly, or whether money changed hands to ensure Pakistan's disastrous batting.

Although the allegations have not yet been tested in a court of law, the NOTW have produced a recording in which no balls bowled during the 4th test are predicted with accuracy.  On Test Match Special one of the no-balls (and a preceding wide) was greeted with some astonishment by Christopher Martin-Jenkins.  No balls will not in themselves have a great effect on the outcome of a test match, but if you can induce a bowler to bowl badly at specific times, can you not also persuade batsmen to lunge at balls they should really leave well alone.

So far four Pakistan team members have been named as being in the pay of Mazhar Majeed, the man arrested and bailed yesterday for arranging the betting fixes. Captain Salman Butt, named as one of the conspirators, gave a very strange press conference yesterday in which he appeared tired, nervous and hesitant, so hesitant in fact that team manager Yawar Saeed constantly stepped in and answered questions on Butt's behalf. Butt sidestepped every question put to him about the fixing allegations, most telling perhaps was this exchange...

"The allegations involving you - are they true or false?"

Butt - "I haven't heard any allegation except someone just taking my name. There is nothing that I've seen or shown on TV, nothing that involves me."
To my mind, an innocent man would have given a clear and unequivocal answer here, a simple and resounding "I have done nothing wrong, I have accepted no payments." 
Butt's manner during the interview, and his and Saeed's skirting of the main issue have done nothing to allay fears that the Pakistan captain has been involved in match fixing.  Despite this, Pakistan insist that the ODI and 20-20 matches will go ahead, but to what point, for whatever happens in the forthcoming matches the pundits and public (and possibly the police) will be examining every loose ball, dropped catch and wild shot and wondering if it was real or induced.  The remaining matches are going to be newsworthy for all the wrong reasons and they place Pakistan in a no win situation.  If Pakistan play as badly as they did during the majority of the test series then people will wonder if match fixing is still going ahead, if they play well and start to win games then the public will think that the test series was a sham and that Pakistan deliberately lost the series.
All of these events are a great shame for England, who have produced some great cricket during the test matches. They have been patchy with the bat, although Morgan, Prior, Cook, Trott and Broad have each scored a century (and the last two were closer to double tons), but good with the ball, Anderson's 11 wickets in the 1st Test was memorable, and he was consistently threatening throughout the series, Broad got a few wickets, and Swann produced some quite devastating bowling spells.  Trott and Broad in particular may feel aggrieved after producing a match winning and record breaking stand to put the final test beyond Pakistans reach, their wonderful achievements are now always going to be tainted by the scandal that broke on the final day.

I love cricket, it is a quite wonderful game, and whilst a betting scandal in football or rugby would have made me a little exasperated and annoyed, yesterday's news left me feeling angry and very sad.  The whole of this test series has been tainted by the spot fixing allegations, we don't know if anything we have seen if true or not, we are left unsure as to whether the results, and therefore our enjoyment and emotions, have been cruelly tampered with. 

Michael Holding was scathing in his criticism of the cricket authorities yesterday, Holding is the coolest, most laid back bloke in cricket, when you have managed to wind him up to the point where he is almost spluttering with rage then something really is seriously wrong. The TMS team members and former England captain Nasser Hussain pointed out inequalities in the pay structure of Pakistan, especially when compared to super rich neighbours India, that makes them easier targets for bribes and fixing, but it is still unforgivable to damage our wonderful game in this way.  We need a clean sweep of any cheats, even if this involves a life ban for Pakistan's captain and other team members, and then an even more rigorous system for eliminating cheating from the game.

The very soul of cricket depends on the ICC getting this right, if we cannot trust the results from games then sponsorship will be switched to other sports for fear of tainting the companies involved, fans will not pay to watch games where results may have been pre-ordained, TV companies will find their coverage a harder sell.  The game of cricket must be fair, and must be seen to be fair, there can be no refuge or leniency for anyone caught altering the result, or any changing of the direction of a game, at all.

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