On Durban pitch, minus fixers, cricket's glory is resurrected

Last Updated 20 September 2010, 17:03 IST

Batting first, the fancied Mumbai team at one stage was down in the dumps at 84 for 5, with all its star batsmen, including Sachin Tendulkar, Kieron Pollard and J P Duminy, back in the pavilion after scoring next to nothing. But in the last five overs, the irrepressible Saurabh Tiwari and mercurial Dwyane Bravo put together a dazzling 64 runs to take Mumbai to a highly competitive 165 for 7.

Thank God, there was no ubiquitous bookie sitting in Dubai and directing how much Mumbai should have scored in the match.

When RCB batted, it was the indomitable Rahul Dravid who held the innings together when other stars in the team tumbled. It was left to the mercurial Virat Kohli and Dravid to go for the impossible of scoring 60-odd runs in the last five overs and they fell short by a mere two runs. It was a game of glorious uncertainties, which is what makes cricket a fun game to watch.

Again, thank God there was no seedy bookie sitting in London and manipulating the winner. The paying public in Durban and millions of cricket fans across the world got their worth in money and time and that’s what the game is — or should be — all about.

But reflect for a moment on the shenanigans that the Pakistani cricketers currently touring England are indulging in by blatantly selling themselves for a few million pounds and the Pakistan Cricket Board continuing to defend them and you get an idea how vulnerable the game has become to lose its magnetism and credibility built over 200 years.

After a series of sting operations conducted by two major newspapers in England and startling expose of match-fixing by Pakistani cricketers during the current tour, everyone except the PCB and ICC to some extent, are fully convinced that Pakistan cricket is buried in mounds of deep shit and they deserve to be kicked out of international cricket until they emerge clean and worthy of respect by other teams and fans alike.

The extraordinary collusion that some cricketers like Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir indulged in during Lord’s Test in spot-fixing in connivance with some bookies, which resulted in their suspension from the game, did not happen overnight.

The subsequent investigations have suggested that the malaise is deep rooted in Pakistan cricket and goes back to a few years, casting a shadow over a number of Tests and ODIs played and perhaps deliberately lost by Pakistan.

The latest revelation that even after the scandal hit the ceiling, a certain ‘ringleader’ was again involved in fixing some aspects of an ODI last Friday “taking money from the bookies and ensuring that their orders were carried out,” should open the eyes of the ICC to the rot that has set in and the urgent measures required to rid the game of its internal saboteurs.

After initially acknowledging that they need to clean up their act and punish those found guilty, the PCB has completely gone on the denial mode and making wild claims of ‘conspiracy’ to defame their cricketers and the country. Even the Pakistan government, which was initially ‘shamed’ by the conduct of its players and ordered an inquiry into their assets, has halted the inquiry and joined the ECB to find shelter under conspiracy theories.

Mumbai attack parallel

In fact, Pakistan’s reaction to the betting scandal involving its cricketers has a remarkable parallel to the way it has steadfastly refused to accept overwhelming evidence of its involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attack, masterminded from its soil by the ISI and Jamat ud Dawa, which left 164 people killed.

Discount the evidence provided by Kasab, a Pakistani national captured during the attack, discount the hours of intercepted conversation between Kasab and his handlers in Pakistan handed over to Pakistan as evidence, but at least the confession with all its chilling details of the direct involvement of Pakistan-based Jamat made by Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley to the US authorities, should have convinced Pakistani rulers that they had to take credible action against the perpetrators of this crime.

But Pakistan refuses to budge, knowing that India has little leverage to pressurise it.
The betting scandal, on the other hand, is not a matter between just two countries and if Pakistan believes that by rubbishing all evidence it will silence its critics, it is sadly mistaken. PCB chief Ijaz Butt has even tried to counter-attack by accusing English players of match-fixing, though he has no evidence to back his claim.

Pakistan’s bluster will not work as already, international cricketers have begun voicing their discomfort at playing with a bunch of fixers and a day will not be far off when all other cricket boards join hands to boycott the Pakistani team until it purges itself of the wrong-doers and hands out stringent punishment to them. They will demand guarantees that a future Pakistani team will consist of people who will play it hard and in the right spirit and not some puppets on a dollar or pound string.

The string of investigations that the ICC has initiated into the involvement of certain Pakistan cricketers should be taken their logical end and the ‘ringleaders’ of the scandal meted out life bans, whether PCB accepts it not. That’s the only way the ICC can convince the sponsors and the fans that it is running the game, fair and square, and not some shady characters sitting in dark rooms.

(Published 20 September 2010, 17:03 IST)

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