From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 30, 2010
When I was a lad scrambling to get into the school first team I used to go to bed on the evening before every match day dreaming of dashing centuries, wickets galore and catches to blind the eye; all in brilliant sunshine.
We cricket people are all romantics and, naturally, on every match day it rained.
I felt then as I do now. Totally let down, depressed, wanting the whole nasty business to go away, unable to enjoy my sport because the news is so bad.
My only consolation is that everyone else, on all sides of the game, must feel the same way after a couple of weeks of detailed reporting of cheating in cricket, misbehaviour in football and a huge fine for a technical offence in snooker related to an approach to throw a match.
I am talking about the world champion John Higgins. He was fined £75,000 for not reporting an offer to lose on purpose and found not guilty of the more serious charge of conspiring to throw a match. He may have been given the benefit of the doubt and I agree with the verdict offered by Barry Hearn, now snooker's boss of bosses.
“He has lost his good name,” says Hearn, a direct man in the way of Geoff Boycott. It reminds me of an old Greek saying. “Better lose your eye than your name.”
Higgins will be lucky if he ever feels the same way about snooker but that is the result for us all, whatever our favourite game.
Imagine you are, for instance, Jonathon Trott and Chris Broad, the England batsmen who set a world record in the third Test against Pakistan. Their celebrations lasted only a few hours before they learned that there were allegations against Pakistan that meant their great rescue act may have been tainted.
You will know how spectators feel. It was expressed by those Pakistanis who live in Yorkshire and who were so upset by hints of matches rigged and no balls deliberately bowled that they rang the Headingley ground and asked if there was some way they could get their money back.
Of course there was no possibility of a refund but that is just one of cricket's problems.
At Lord's and at the Oval a great many empty seats suggested that fans were voting with their unused tickets.
Romantics all, they were telling the rest of the world that if cricket might have been rigged, that if their own men might — and the case is unproven — have let their proud country down, they wanted no part of these games. Even if — and remember jobs are hard to find in Britain at this time, money is short, the government is holding back every penny it can save — it costs them a week's wage or more.
So players are alienated, spectators are walking away; but what about their intermediaries, the lucky guys in the press box with their privileged place and their free lunches.
I dined the other night with some of my former colleagues. We ate well, we supped our fill, and we chatted long into the night. In those circumstances the tongues were loose and the mind has no inhibitions.
Yet not once did I hear a word about the match-fixing storm that was not tinged with sadness. Life is hard in the press area too but that is not the reason that a pall hung over our club's annual dinner.
The reason for the sadness is that all the old certainties have gone, that a man has to be double careful before he describes a superb spell of bowling, a wonderful match-saving innings, a carelessness with no balls and wides.
He knows, for the first time in his life, that all is not on the surface.
These have been wretched days, enough to make a man wonder if he should not quit the cricket ground and transfer his writing skills to the soccer stadium. No, I think not. The stain of bad behaviour is just as deep among men on a football field as it is in cricket. There are strong suspicions that corruption is not very far beneath the surface.
Bizarre suggestions abound that throw-ins, corners, and the result of winning the toss have been fixed to ensure an enjoyable result for those in the know. (Hardly the same thrill at winning if you place a bet knowing the outcome but I guess that these punters are happy to swap the pleasure of an unexpected win for the certain financial gain.)
Worst of all for the romantic sports fan is the certainty that up to half a dozen England players have secrets so vile that they must go to court to stop publication of the details.
Forget Wayne Rooney and his sordid life. Several of his colleagues have asked the courts to order it illegal for the media to publish details of their misdemeanours although happily some judges are proving less amenable to this course of action.
The desire to put the truth in the public domain is no help really. Joe Fan has seen the truth and he is clearly not impressed.
The status of the rich, young, greedy, headstrong footballer is at an all-time low. His admirers are in the main working lads, struggling to keep together their family on pared down wages to pit against rising wages.
One day, they might just decide that there are better uses for their cash than buying tickets that will support the idle sportsman and so reduce even more football clubs to bankruptcy.
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