Monday, 7 November 2011

It's just not cricket (3)...

Last week I booked tickets for myself and my father to go to one day of next year's test match between South Africa and England at Headingley.  I like to go to at least one day of a test per year - this will be my Dad's first ever cricket game (unless he ever watched some of mine in my younger days, I don't think he ever managed it and given how poor I was I hope he didn't!).  

The teams at the moment are ranked 1 (England) and 2 (South Africa) in the world in test cricket so it is all rather exciting and should be up there with the India series this summer for interest.  Yet for some reason this premium series has only 3 test matches allocated to it - two of which are in London.  London also has another with the West Indies playing there earlier in the summer leaving just three tests in total around the rest of the country for 2012.  It wasn't long ago that the ECB were talking about giving South Africa the same sort of billing as Australia - meaning 5 test series'.  I believe an agreement was signed in 2008 that said that it would be contested over 5 tests so how this has changed?  

What makes this worse is that there is an almost pointless one day series sandwiched in between.  As an English cricket fan I see the most important games as those against Australia yet I see no reason for a one day series against them when they are not touring for tests.  

I can't help but agree with Andrew Strauss when he says we are sowing the seeds of our own downfall.  

 "Even in traditional hotbeds of the game such as South Africa attendances are a long way below what we would expect them to be. I am very much aware that, if we are arrogant and assume Test cricket will always be there, we are sowing the seeds of our downfall."

As I mentioned in my blog last month this is really disappointing that the ICC appear to be backing down on plans to hold a test championship.  


Picture from the BBC website
My feelings on the game haven't changed despite last week three (former?) Pakistan cricketers were jailed for fixing certain points of a test match against England last year at Lords by bowling three deliberate no balls at precise points in the game (I've blogged previously that it's Not Cricket here and here.  In fact it was the day of the judgement that I booked my tickets.

The players were Salman Butt (the then captain - receiving 30 months imprisonment), Mohammed Asif (1 year) and Mohammed Amir (only 18 at the time and pleaded guilty 6 months).  The full judgement is interesting and can be read here.  I think the judge was about right.  He specifies that given his position as captain Salman was more culpable than either bowler and even holds him responsible for Amir's part in the corruption.  The most worrying part of the statement though is when talking about Mazhar Majeed (the agent also involved):

"What is clear however is that you were involved in fixing not only with the journalist but with others during the period covered by the Indictment. Whether or not what this court has had to consider is just the tip of an iceberg, is not for me to say and lies beyond the scope of the evidence I have heard, but, even allowing for your “sales talk” to the journalist, I am sure that there was an element of truth in what you said about past fixing."

It was imperative that having been found guilty they were sent to jail to act as a huge deterrent to anyone who undertakes such activities in future - particularly in England.  At the same time will anyone be able to look at the game in the same way again?  It's been over 10 years since the huge Hansie Cronje affair and other similar stories and it just seems that cricket hasn't learned.  I completely agree with Andrew Strauss (again) when he says the ICC anti-corruption unit is a "toothless tiger" - it is under resourced and under skilled to remove this cancer from the game that so many love.  What's worth even more of a read is Ian Chappell's opinion, it's amazing how naive the authorities appear to be.  What I was also shocked but pleased to read a leading commentator say was the following: 

"And if anyone thinks Bob Woolmer's death wasn't slightly suspicious and that Pakistan players are the only ones involved in this racket, I have a rewarding Nigerian investment opportunity you'd be interested in."

I remember blogging about my sadness of Bob Woolmer's passing and the unanswered questions at the time (that blog no longer exists) it was a shocking incident and surely even more people are questioning it now.

Throughout all of the commentary I've read following the verdicts though the best paragraph has been the following: 

"For me it is this loss of innocence which is one of the saddest aspects of this whole story. What I love about sport is the drama and the unpredictability. When I turn up at a cricket match I love the feeling that anything can happen that day.  Teams can fight back from seemingly impossible positions or collapse when looking impregnable. But will we now always believe it?"

Getty Images - Graham and Nasser
celebrate in the dark
This was said by Adam Mountford, the BBC's radio cricket producer and really reflects I think a common feel.  The reason I love cricket is for days such as Sri Lanka's collapse against England this summer, where I was sat in a pub not intending to watch the final dead day, but fortunately it was on.  Then days when teams survive when they shouldn't - great run chases/turnarounds such as England in Pakistan in 2000 and of course Botham's Ashes (which unfortunately I wasn't around for!)  But even that legendary game, players bet on England at odds of 500/1... now I'm not suggesting for a minute that there actually was any conspiracy there, but now there must be doubt?  I fear now that any remarkable feat by batsman or bowler/any below average performance could be questioned and this in itself will be enough to drive people away from the game which I honestly still love.  

Therefore Chappell is right when he says the ICC needs to get tougher.  Being found guilty of such a thing should end careers - mitigating circumstances (such as pressure applied to a player) could come into account and I feel that (without knowing the evidence) there may be enough to suggest that in five years Amir deserves another chance but the others should never play again.  

I just hope that this will be looked back on as either the darkest times for cricket, or the time which broke the back of corruption and cheating and lead to it's eradication from the game and not the start of it's demise.

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