Sunday, 29 August 2010

A magnificent England performance - allegedly

The spot-fixing allegations hanging over the fourth test have left me feeling all sorts of emotions one should never have to feel in connection with a Test Match. I have to express them somehow and here's as good a place as any...

To play in a Test Match is the greatest honour a cricketer can have bestowed upon him. He has the chance to measure himself against the very best of his contemporaries, and these measurements are precisely chronicled in order that that cricketer can be evaluated alongside the rest of the chosen few who have reached this elevated status since the very first Test Match took place in 1877. A Test Match is just that: the ultimate test of a cricketer's ability. You owe it to yourself, and to the great game of cricket, to channel every fibre of your being into giving the very best performance you can at all times. But for some people, who were born with natural ability and have worked hard to hone their skills to the fullest extent, it seems like being a Test cricketer becomes an entitlement. This is understandable, but what is inexcusable is when they get to the point where they see it as their own plaything, to be played around with as they see fit.

We know that Hansie Cronje, a magnificently gifted cricketer and captain representing his nation as it fought to re-establish its status within the world, deliberately made certain cricketing decisions based on his own personal profit rather than what was most likely to obtain the best result for his country. The irony of Wisden's description of him as "an adventurous captain; one prepared to gamble" is at its most sickening when I look back at the 5th Test between South Africa and England in January 2000. I can remember following this match as it happened, obviously oblivious to what would subsequently emerge, and I saluted the gesture of him and Hussein, another adventurous captain, trying something unprecedented to bring about what we all wanted: a competitive match with a good chance of a result. I remember enjoying an unlikely England win in the very last over that could be played, a great moment after a series in which England were comprehensively thrashed. It later emerged that a professional gambler had paid money to Cronje to try to make a result possible. Would Cronje have forfeited the second innings without such an inducement? Did England earn that victory fair and square? The worst thing is we'll never ultimately know.

So now, with these allegations hanging over aspects of Pakistan's performance the fourth test, all sorts of features of the whole series are being brought into doubt. That's the problem. Albeit that Amir's two enormous no-balls stick out like a sore thumb in a spell where he was bowling with astonishing precision, nothing has been proved, yet still the questions come. The stench of corruption hangs heavy in the air, and the fact that at this stage there's no resolution one way or another inevitably leads one to wonder just how limited any alleged fix might have been. Was Pakistan's fielding really as comical as it looked? Were all those dropped catches actually down to what happened in the hands rather than the head? NOTHING has been proven, but EVERYTHING now falls into question.

Pity the 11 men who have represented England over the past few weeks. At no point has there been any doubt that they've been working their collective arses off and given it their best. Some, and too many, may have played poorly but those that have shone deserve to be able to look back on their achievements with a great deal of pride. At the moment that genuine entitlement is denied them. England's bowlers have collectively averaged 17.18 for the series - that is a simply phenomenal return, but is it real? Did those epic Pakistani batting collapses take place as a result of good bowling or something more sinister? When Stuart Broad rubs it in that he's now topped his old man's best score, will Broad Snr comfort himself with the thought that at least his runs came against teams that were trying?

Sympathy also goes the Pakistani team members, or at least those who are certain of their own personal innocence. How must it feel to have played your best and suffered four comprehensive defeats over the summer, and now have to question just how hard your colleagues were really trying? How must it feel to be in the situation of understanding that despite all your own hard-fought efforts your achievements, and you personally, will now be tainted by the stains of events that were not within your control, that were totally at odds with your own personal ethics, and that may not even have taken place? How on earth can the dynamic within an already fraught dressing room ever be returned to something serviceable, when all are questioning each other's motives?

And then there's the spectators. They pay good money to watch two teams play their best. They are emotionally involved in what takes place, and surely no sporting event on earth combines such a contrast of triumph and disaster with the sheer amount of time that such emotions can last as a good, honest-to-God, belter of a test match. Look at day two at Lord's - pretty soon it was all gloom and doom, then it just got worse. By lunchtime there was widespread panic. Would we have to face the mighty, sneering Aussies in the winter with a thousand sledges about how we threw the series away ringing in our ears? With Prior at the crease we felt better, but then at 102 for 7 it was total, abject misery. But slowly, so very, very slowly, we began to feel better. At first we were just hoping for respectability in defeat, then we hoped for a draw to clinch the series, and then it gradually just got better... and better... and better... until at the end of the day's play eight hours later, and with records tumbling like dominoes, I just felt like running round the block screaming "GO YOU GOOD THING!" And now? Who knows. All those emotions now have a sickening hollowness to them.

Finally, if it is finally discovered that there has been foul play, imagine how the Pakistani people, cricket-mad and desperate for something positive to take their minds of the appalling events taking place all around them, must feel at the thought that those players who they look up to, idolise and above all rely upon to give them some sunshine amongst the misery may instead have been selfishly pursuing their own greedy agendas.

No-one wins, everyone loses.

1 comment:

stoph verismo said...

hi mate,
did you want me to put up your clubs logo and link on down the wicket?
it would be great to include as i like to honour all contributors and their clubs.

all the best

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