Beware the knee-jerk reactions

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The Independent Online

The first response was one of disbelief, almost dismissal. That lasted for three days. Then came the second reaction. That was also of disbelief but it was of a totally different kind. It made no sense, it still doesn't. We still know little about this dreadful story of possibly rigged results or manipulated matches. But we do know that the captain of South Africa apparently took a quantity of cash for passing on information of some kind about a match.

The first response was one of disbelief, almost dismissal. That lasted for three days. Then came the second reaction. That was also of disbelief but it was of a totally different kind. It made no sense, it still doesn't. We still know little about this dreadful story of possibly rigged results or manipulated matches. But we do know that the captain of South Africa apparently took a quantity of cash for passing on information of some kind about a match.

This was earth-shattering. The name of the man alone made it so, and five days later it seems no more credible. The mood in the early-season dressing-rooms is that if Hansie Cronje can do this, then probably anybody can.

There is no doubt that in one fell swoop dramatic damage was done to the game and possibly the public's perception of it. From standing for all that is to do with fair play - or at least, even in this day and age, something tantamount to it - it became a bastion of suspicion and intrigue.

Reactions were swift and not unnaturally knee-jerk. Calls for inquiries were frequent. Something, it is clear, must be done. But what? Opprobrium has been heaped on the International Cricket Council, and it would certainly appear that they have not had their finger permanently on this particular pulse.

They have, it appears to many, been slow to lead. Slower, it would seem, in some respects than they have been on other issues such as, for example, the size of logos and brand names worn on players' kit. This is an old chestnut - I remember Arjuna Ranatunga running into trouble a couple of years ago because he was advertising some diner or other on his bat - but it has still not been dispelled.

The ICC are currently concerned about the size of the logo adorning Slazenger bats. This is pertinent to me because it happens to be the brand I use. For the moment the dispute rolls on, with both sides digging in their heels. Nobody is denying there have to be regulations governing such matters, but they seem to pale a tad on the list of priorities a governing body should attend to in the face of the revelations of the past few days.

Equally, it is one thing to say they ought to do something and another to say what it is precisely they should do. Interrogate all the players? Launch an investigation of every match, of every authority? All unlikely.

Similarly, the stopping of games in places such as Sharjah - deemed to be deeply suspicious - or in places in the Indian sub-continent is fraught with difficulty over the infringement of liberties. The ICC might be the governing body but they could hardly dictate to that extent where cricket should be played.

Too many one-day internationals, then, or at least too many that are meaningless. The long, multi-team, multi-match series of the kind played in Australia every winter are one example. Sometimes players are rested for these.

It quite befuddles my mind, that. Rested from an international, the sort of contest for which you should always be picking your best team. Now that isn't match-fixing or match manipulation in any textbook, but it surely does not make sense.

Generally speaking, however, the public have continued to watch one-dayers, and in any case it has been said of England that they have played too few. It still seems hard to believe to me, probably to all England players, that any international could be viewed as just another match. But that's what we have been led to believe these past few days.

Perhaps it might be possible to invest more matches with more significance by having a rolling World Championship of the kind that has been discussed for Test cricket, so that teams are playing one-dayers home and away and they all count. This will not be easy, the fixture list is full enough and it would need rearranging. But this is a horrendously difficult time. Minds must be concentrated, and if that is a way to do it, so be it.

Rumours have been circulating for years about certain players, certain matches. I would say that no English player has ever been involved, would never dream of it. But how can I know with absolute certainty?

Players are thinking back to all sorts of matches they played in once and thought nothing of at the time. They are wondering if that middle- order collapse here was deliberate, or if that series of half-volleyish tripe there was intended.

Maybe, as Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said, we have seen but the tip of the iceberg yet. Maybe. But while not doing nothing and being seen to do something are important, we must stress the positive qualities of the game now. Most of it, I am certain, is still clean. It will come through this mess.

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