Yesterday at 12.36pm England won the fourth Test against Pakistan by an innings and 225 runs to complete a commendable 3-1 win in the series. Nobody cared.
The players shook hands desultorily, the spectators applauded politely but not enthusiastically. The epic events of the match, some of the type to be witnessed in a sporting arena only every thousand years or so, had been consumed by other matters.
Overnight, with Pakistan on 41 for 4 and already in a hopeless position, damning allegations had been made of sharp practice of the gravest sort. In the immediate short term, they put at risk the series of limited-overs matches that is due to take place between the sides starting next Sunday, but there are potentially much wider repercussions for a sport which has already been split asunder once by match-fixing.
The tourists stand accused of allegedly taking money for rigging certain occurrences in the match. In particular, their two excellent fast bowlers, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, who had both illuminated the series, were alleged to have bowled deliberate no-balls at specified points in the game.
Not only that, but they were said to have supposedly been joined, perhaps helped, perhaps advised, in committing their misdemeanours by their team captain, Salman Butt. An investigation by the News of the World, which has now been taken over by the Metropolitan Police, apparently revealed that they have been in the pay of a match-fixer called Mazhar Majeed who lives in a Croydon mansion.
On Saturday night, in the wake of the newspaper story which followed a tip-off several weeks ago, Majeed was arrested. The newspaper reported that it had paid Majeed £150,000 to become part of his betting ring. When the money was handed over, Majeed demonstrated his authenticity as a fixer by saying that certain specific deliveries would be no-balls.
He thought he was impressing fellow gamblers glad to seek an illicit advantage but they were actually undercover reporters. The newspaper reported that the no-balls duly arrived – the third ball of the third over from Aamer and the sixth ball of the 10th over from Asif on Thursday and the third ball of Aamer's third over on Friday.
In the general scheme of things, a no-ball here or there in a cricket match might not amount to a hill of beans – unless the margins were particularly tight – but that is far from the point. It is simply and deliberately cheating and what it might lead to in terms of fixing the result is horrific to contemplate for anybody who watches sport and thinks it is rather fun as well as rather serious.
That is why the mood was so sepulchral at Lord's yesterday. It did not help that the claimed misdeeds had taken place in the greatest sporting arena in the world, one imbued with history and every romantic notion, misplaced or not, that ever attached itself to cricket.
After England had completed their victory, Andrew Strauss, their captain, said: "We turned up this morning knowing it was our job to get the job done and we did that pretty well but the atmosphere out there was pretty sombre and that's understandable because the game of cricket is in the headlines for not just the wrong reasons but the worst of reasons. It's been a tough day."
Butt and the tourists' venerable manager, Yawar Saeed, made a stab at fronting up. To general surprise, they conducted a press conference, albeit uninformative, lasting more than 10 minutes. Pakistan had skipped the post-match presentation, which bizarrely took place in the Long Room at Lord's rather than on the outfield.
Aamer, the tyro fast bowler, who had seemed destined for greatness after his sterling deeds and 19 wickets in the series, was made Pakistan's man of the series. Giles Clarke, the England and Wales Cricket Board's chairman, signally failed to shake his hand or look him in the eye as he handed over the trophy.
Clarke might have been feeling a deep personal slight. He has been strident in fighting Pakistan's corner in the world cricket, and has insisted that every effort be made to accommodate them since they are no longer able to play international matches at home following the murderous attack on the Sri Lankan team coach in Lahore last year.
It was Clarke who ensured that space was made in this English summer for neutral matches between Pakistan and Australia. As he put his nose in the air on greeting Aamer, it was not difficult to tell where his sympathies now lie.
Butt denied wrongdoing but he was not wholly convincing in his rebuttal. "These are just allegations," he said. "There's nothing that I have seen or has been shown on TV that involves me."
The police, however, may take a closer look at Butt's stance when Aamer bowls one of the two no-balls he is alleged to have delivered to order. Butt, at mid-off, is looking not at the batsman, but at the popping crease to see where the bowler's front foot is landing.
"I would say that every person has given 100 per cent and all the efforts he could," said Butt. "But you can't go out every time and achieve what you want. All you can do is try, and the rest, you know, is beyond your control."
Yawar is an experienced hand at managing Pakistan teams abroad, having done so more than 20 times. It was his proud boast at the start of the tour that he had always managed to miss those on which contentious issues had been raised. He was not, for instance, at the helm when the ball-tampering row was going on in England four years ago, leading to the abandonment of a Test match, or in Australia last winter when the dressing room was split, they lost all nine international matches and there were suspicions even then that some players were indulging in dark arts.
Yawar confirmed that his and Butt's hotel rooms had been searched by police the previous night and also that he had spoken to the squad that morning, which is why they did not practice.
The atmosphere, as England went to work to take the six weeks they needed, never rose above subdued. It was still difficult to take in that on Friday morning England had been 47 for 5 and staring down the barrel.
But that had been an age ago, when the game and everything in it was innocent. England had pulled themselves out of trouble thanks to a world-record Test wicket partnership of 332 between Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad, who scored centuries that were resolute and charming. They then bowled out Pakistan for 74 in their first innings and had reduced their second to tatters.
Graeme Swann bowled masterfully yesterday morning against batsmen whose minds were clearly elsewhere as their manager read the News of the World on the dressing room balcony. The tourists fell to 97 for 9 before Umar Akmal, one of those allegedly implicated in the betting ring scams, launched a counter-attack.
It mattered not. What did was what Strauss had to say so glumly as he reflected on his side's lack of excitement as wickets fell. "Maybe when a team is 600 for 2 and you take a wicket you get a similar sort of feeling," he said.
"I think we were very pleased to finish the game off and it was an outstanding turnaround from the guys but we all realise there is a greater context to this and it's a pretty sombre context, and not one we really want to be involved in."
Fourth Test (Third & fourth day of five): England beat Pakistan by an innings and 225 runs.
Pakistan won toss
England First Innings
Overnight Friday: 346-7
I J L rott c Akmal b Riaz 184
383 balls 19 fours
S C J Broad lbw b Ajmal 169
297 balls 19 fours 1 six
J M Anderson c Hameed b Ajmal 6
14 balls 1 four
S T Finn not out 0
Extras (b 4, lb 17, w 7, nb 14)42
Total (139.2 overs)446
Fall: 1-31 (Strauss), 2-39 (Cook), 3-39 (Pietersen), 4-39 (Collingwood), 5-47 (Morgan), 6-102 (Prior), 7-102 (Swann), 8-434 (Broad), 9-446 (Anderson), 10-446 (Trott).
Bowling: M Aamer 28-6-84-6 (w1, nb4) (5-2-15-0, 6-2-14-4, 4-1-8-2, 2-0-10-0, 2-0-11-0, 4-0-15-0, 5-1-11-0), M Asif 29-6-97-1 (nb2) (11-2-36-1, 4-1-7-0, 2-1-4-0, 2-0-7-0, 4-1-17-0, 3-1-12-0, 3-0-14-0), W Riaz 27.2-4-92-1 (w2, nb8) (1-0-4-0, 6-2-11-0, 1-0-5-0, 9-1-31-0, 3-1-13-0, 2-0-10-0, 5.2-0-18-1), S Ajmal 44-5-126-2 (2-0-9-0, 8-0-22-0, 8-1-23-0, 12—2—32-0, 9-2-24-0, 5-0-16-2), Y Hameed 1-1-0-0 (one spell), I Farhat 10-1-26-0 (9-1-19-0, 1-0-7-0).
Progress Third day: 400 in 126.5 overs, Lunch 445-8 (Trott 183, Anderson 6) 138.0 overs. Trott 150: 303 balls, 15 fours. Broad 150: 273 balls, 14 fours, 1 six.
Pakistan First Innings
I Farhat c Prior b Anderson 6
21 balls 1 four
Y Hameed Yasir Hameed c Swann b Broad 2
*S Butt b Swann 26
58 balls 4 fours
M Yousuf b Broad 0
A Ali c Cook b Swann 10
47 balls 1 four
U Akmal b Finn 6
22 balls 1 four
†K Akmal c Prior b Finn 13
21 balls 2 fours
M Amir lbw b Finn 0
W Riaz lbw b Swann 2
S Ajmal not out 4
1 ball 1 four
M Asif c & b Swann 0
Extras (lb 4, nb 1)5
Total (33 overs)74
Fall: 1-9 (Hameed), 2-9 (Farhat), 3-10 (Yousuf), 4-46 (Butt), 5-53 (Ali), 6-57 (U Akmal), 7-57 (Amir), 8-70 (K Akmal), 9-74 (Riaz), 10-74 (Asif).
Bowling: J M Anderson 10-6-10-1 (nb1) (5-4-3-1, 5-2-7-0), S C J Broad 6-4-10-2 (one spell), S T Finn 9-4-38-3 (4-1-25-0, 5-3-13-3), G P Swann 8-3-12-4 (one spell).
Progress Third day: Tea 46-3 (Ali 10, Butt 26) 22.0 overs, 50 in 22.4 overs.
Second Innings (following on)
Overnight Saturday: 41-4
I Farhat c Cook b Broad 5
12 balls 1 four
Y Hameed lbw b Anderson 3
* S Butt lbw b Swann 21
45 balls 3 fours
M Yousuf c Trott b Finn 10
19 balls 1 four
A Ali b Swann 12
U Akmal not out 79
68 balls 11 fours 2 sixes
†K Akmal c Prior b Anderson 1
M Aamer b Swann 0
W Riaz c Pietersen b Swann 0
S Ajmal run out (Broad) 8
17 balls 1 four
M Asif c Collingwood b Swann 1
Extras (b 1, lb 2, w 3, nb 1) 7
Total (36.5 overs)147
Fall: 1-7 (Farhat), 2-9 (Hameed), 3-41 (Butt), 4-41 (Yousuf), 5-63 (Ali), 6-64 (Akmal), 7-65 (Aamer), 8-73 (Riaz), 9-97 (Ajmal), 10-147 (Asif).
Bowling: J M Anderson 13-4-35-2 (w1) (5-3-6-1, 8-1-29-1), S C J Broad 6-1-24-1 (w2) (4-1-9-1, 2-0-15-0), S T Finn 4-0-23-1 (nb1) (one spell), G P Swann 13.5-1-62-5 (3-1-6-1, 10.5-0-56-4).
Progress: Third day: Close of Play 41-4 (Ali 0) 15.3 overs. Fourth day: 50 in 17.0 overs, 100 in 29.3 overs. U Akmal 50: 40 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) & A L Hill (NZ).
TV replay umpire: S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee: R T Robinson.
England win four-match series 3-1