A day of fisticuffs and finger-pointing at Lord's
Cahal Milmo finds the corruption saga overshadowing the cricket
Tuesday 21 September 2010
Moving shiftily between Pakistani cricket supporters and panama-wearing MCC members gathering outside the spiritual home of cricket, Henry, a ticket tout, was blunt and to the point in his analysis of the plight of the sport. He said: "I'm worried. You know a game is in trouble if the likes of me look more trustworthy than some of the guys in there playing."
Strong sentiments about the damage being caused by lingering allegations of gambling scams and a spectacularly backfiring counter-assault by Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) – who suggested that England players threw a one-day international last Friday – were not difficult to find amid the cricketing faithful at Lord's yesterday.
The tone for the fourth one-day international between England and Pakistan was set barely an hour before play started at 1pm, first by a strongly worded statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board threatening legal action against Mr Butt, and then by a pre-match confrontation between the batsman Jonathan Trott and the bowler Wahab Riaz in the practice nets.
Officials insisted the fracas between Trott and Riaz, who was interviewed last week by Scotland Yard detectives investigating the spot-fixing claims against Pakistani players, was purely verbal.
But there was no mistaking the crackle of despair caused by the renewed descent of the most gentlemanly of sporting pursuits into internecine strife.
Henry, whose trade had been so badly affected by the 5,000 unsold seats for yesterday's match that he had taken to directing potential clients to the official ticket booth for £30 tickets he said he could not undercut, said: "Gambling and sport have always gone together, and so has a little bit of shady stuff.
"But this is all a bit different. People aren't going to come if they don't think it's credible any more. If I sell someone a dud ticket, then I get found out pretty quickly. But with match-fixing, the truth is harder to get at. Unless they sort it out, it'll slowly kill the trust people have in cricket. And that's bad news for the likes of me."
Amid the jumble of gentlemen sporting MCC ties and Pakistan fans wearing jingling jester hats, there was broad support for the decision to play the two remaining one-day games despite Mr Butt's unsubstantiated claim that England players received "enormous sums of money" to lose deliberately Friday's game at the Oval.
The allegations from the head of the PCB provoked the English to consider seriously withdrawing from the series, but in the end, they issued a statement making clear that the team "deplores and rejects unreservedly the suggestion that any England cricketer was involved in manipulating the outcome" of the match. For his part, Mr Butt insisted he had merely been reporting rumours among bookmakers.
Ahmed Yusuf, 26, a civil servant and self-confessed "cricket nut" from Leicester, said: "The game always has to go on. You remove the troublemakers and head out to the wicket. The whole summer has been ugly for Pakistani cricket and I wouldn't blame the England players for being pissed off with Ijaz Butt.
"It's pretty awful when the head of one national cricket board starts slinging around allegations at an opposing team. It looks like a wounded animal lashing out."
With the International Cricket Council now investigating at least three games between England and Pakistan this summer for investigation of spot-fixing, many were firm in their conviction that the sport's governing body needed to take swifter and more draconian action against any wrongdoers.
Alan Watts, 69, wearing an MCC tie, said: "Any player taking money even for slowing the run rate for an over should be out for life. We really do have to be that harsh."
But as Lord's hosted its last international game of the season with a distinctly autumnal chill in the air, there was at least evidence of an abiding passion for cricket.
Shahzad Dar, 55, a businessman, had flown from his home in New York with the sole purpose of watching proceedings. He said: "The damage may have already been done, but we love cricket, and that is what will surely make it survive. Not the players, [but] the fans."
And, if anyone's still interested, England lost by 38 runs yesterday.
Spectators' views: 'The sport is not finished because of these claims'
John Franks, 81 Retired solicitor
"My father told me to always gamble on dogs, because even if you can make them go too slow or too fast, you'll never be sure of the outcome. Humans are just too unreliable in that regard. I think we should sit back and let the investigators do their work before we make judgements about the nature or extent of the problem. It is right that we should carry on playing the game while this process is undertaken. We don't yet know properly what we are dealing with."
Shahzad Dar, 55 Businessman
"I am very happy to be here because cricket is what counts, not what we read in the papers. The sport is not finished because of these claims. It's all very easily dealt with if the ICC gets tough enough. I have travelled from America for this game. England gave the world the game and the sport is bigger than any one single country. It would be wrong to allow our enjoyment to be spoilt by allegations involving a minority of individuals. We should get on with it."
Richard Purnell, 34 Accountant
"These problems have been around for a number of years. Clearly it is time that the governing bodies have to deal with it. I don't think we've got to the stage where as fans we can't believe what is going on before our eyes. I don't think matches are being fixed per se; that would be very difficult to do now. But corruption has not gone entirely and they need to make an example of anyone caught doing it. Nothing seems to have come of previous attempts to stamp it out."
Cyrus Khan, 19 Student
"The claims of corruption and the rows are damaging to the sport. But it would be much more damaging if games like this were not played. It's very important that these matches continue, because we can't let the bad things kill off the game. There need to be tougher sanctions to crack down on these problems. I don't think it's an issue in England but it seems to be rife in Pakistan. Even if it's just a couple of balls in an over, it is immoral and needs to be stopped."
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