James Lawton: Where was Clarke's disdain when Stanford came calling to buy up cricket's dignity?
Clarke did concede that forging the Stanford connection had been a mistake
Tuesday 31 August 2010
Lighting up the darkness of the Pakistan betting scam is something rather more than a flicker of compassion for Mohammad Aamer.
It is shaping into a consensus that if he was one of the perpetrators he is also potentially the most conspicuous victim. This was nowhere reflected with more poignancy than in the admission of the great England bowler Bob Willis that he was moved close to tears by the news that the stunning young prospect had been placed at the heart of the conspiracy.
There have been similar reactions from other major figures in English cricket. Geoff Boycott shook his head and said that we were in the middle of a cricketing tragedy, one that he hoped did not inevitably prevent the rehabilitation of the youth who dazzled Lord's with his brilliance last Friday morning.
Sir Ian Botham was another mourner. True, there could be no quarter for corruption, but the case of Aamer maybe presented another kind of challenge, one not just of retribution but perhaps a little understanding of circumstances that sent him so quickly down the wrong road.
However, there was not a scintilla of such feeling in the expression of the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, when he was obliged to present Aamer with a £4,000 cheque after he was named Pakistan's man of the Test series.
Indeed, so much disdain was packed into Clarke's expression it seemed a little odd that he had not conducted the forlorn ceremony equipped with a face mask and plastic gloves.
The truth is that it is impossible not to look at the resulting photograph splashed across the world yesterday and not recall another shot of the ECB chief while attending a somewhat different official occasion at Lord's two years ago.
You may just remember it. Clarke was in the company of Sir Allen Stanford and a huge Perspex container bulging with crisp $50 notes, $20m worth of them.
Stanford was allowed to fly his private helicopter, trimmed in gold leaf, down on to the manicured grass. A fine welcoming committee, including Botham and his old friend Sir Vivian Richards, had been assembled. Effusive was maybe a mild description of this reception for the man who had made such an extravagant deal for the staging of Twenty20 games in his adopted island of Antigua.
When, soon enough, US Federal investigators charged Stanford with cheating his shareholders by as much as $5.6bn, the resulting embarrassment was considerable, not enough though to persuade Clarke it might be a good idea to resign. However, he did concede that forging the Stanford connection had been a mistake – not a faulty principle, opening the gates of cricket, and its headquarters, to money from wherever it came, with scarcely a nod to due diligence, and putting sheer greed at the top of the cricketing agenda.
The young England batsman Alistair Cook put it diplomatically enough when he said if the Twenty20 cricket in Antigua was not important, the money was.
The point here, though, is that the mature, successful, Rugby- educated head of English cricket admitted he made a mistake. He didn't do it for personal gain, admittedly, but he did put his trust in someone who soon enough was proved utterly unworthy of it.
This, pretty much, is what a barely literate product of one of the world's poorest, and most corrupt, societies did when he accepted the influence of team-mates, one of whom, Mohammad Asif, had already been suspended for a drug offence. Yet there was no ambivalence in the body language of Giles Clarke when, in effect, he dismissed the presence of a young man who, whatever his culpability, was plainly inhabiting a nightmare.
To be fair to Clarke, it has to be said that his support of Pakistan cricket in the time of desperate crisis, with a boycott imposed by prospective touring teams following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore early last year, has been strong and admirable, and last Sunday lunch-time he may well have been feeling a sense of betrayal.
Still, there was a heavy implication in Clarke's demeanour that all the wrongs of cricket, the illegal betting explosion in India which provides such a magnetic lure for the match-fixers, the corruption which brought down the captains of South Africa and India, Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin, the long history of Pakistan cricket's laxity in imposing discipline, could be conveniently placed on some young and drooping shoulders.
This was the shock of that painfully explicit photograph. There were no shades of meaning, no understanding of wider problems, in this building in which, from time to time, men of vastly greater experience and fortune than the devastated Aamer had had reason to hang their heads in shame. We need only skim the surface of English cricket to encounter some significant outcrops of hypocrisy.
There was the sacrificing of Harold Larwood, on whom the bodyline crisis which threatened relations between Australia and a perfidious mother country was conveniently dumped. There was the exclusion of Basil D'Oliveira from the tour of South Africa, after he made 158 and took vital wickets in an Oval Ashes Test and then refused to stand down despite an offer from a South African businessmen of a house, a car, £40,000 and a 10-year-contract to coach black players in the homeland which never allowed him to play first-class cricket. None of the workers of such moral atrocities were ever required to stand in shame, without the smallest gesture towards their vulnerable humanity, in the way that Mohammad Aamer was last Sunday.
This is wrong not because Aamer is innocent, and can reasonably hope to escape without some punishment for his misdeeds. It is just too judgemental, too easy, and does not begin to recognise the fact that cricket did nothing to protect arguably its brightest star. Where were the leaders of cricket when the dynamics of the boy's downfall were being put in place? Universally, it seems they were on other business, some of it fawning on crooks with bags of gold.
Montgomerie right to choose passion of Molinari over absentee Casey
Who would be Ryder Cup captain? Two years ago Sir Nick Faldo suffered one of sport's worst public relations disasters. Ian Woosnam got so worn down he announced that Europe's victory at the K Club in Ireland was one of the greatest events in human history.
Colin Montgomerie is handling the pressure somewhat more adroitly, though inevitably eyebrows have been raised over his preference for his friend Padraig Harrington over English golf's poster boy Paul Casey.
However, there cannot be much doubt that he was right to give the nod to Edoardo Molinari. Apart from his nerveless victory in the last qualifying event, the 29-year-old Italian has displayed a degree of passion which, one senses, is beginning to drain from the Ryder Cup.
At one point there was a suspicion that the old match had become a convenient place to polish some of the images dulled by constant failures to make an impact in the majors, where intense pressure on individuals is not cushioned by the team concept. Now, we seem to have something of a reverse, one perhaps exemplified by Casey's shunning of the Gleneagles event in which he could have nailed down his presence in Wales at the end of September. Casey was said to be near to tears when he heard the news of his exclusion.
Monty, apart from rewarding Molinari, has made the point that if Casey wanted it so much he would have rearranged his schedule. You can't have everything you want, even if you can get to be a multi-millionaire without ever winning a major. Perhaps the captain was saying that the Ryder Cup is still something more than an optional extra.
Capello may yet reap rewards of his waiting game with Walcott
Open season on Fabio Capello rages on so strongly that it is quite refreshing to see that no one has yet performed dire surgery on his decision to leave Theo Walcott at home for the World Cup.
The brilliant form of the Arsenal man might constitute in some minds the basis for still another attack on Il Capo. However, it could just be that Capello was as right to leave Walcott at home as Sven Goran Eriksson was wrong to take him to Germany four years ago.
Maybe Walcott's most pressing need was for someone to concentrate his mind in a meaningful way. This Capello appears to have achieved with his conclusion that the player's development had stalled. Arsène Wenger is, for the moment at least, the chief beneficiary, but who knows? Maybe Capello will draw some benefit against Bulgaria and Switzerland. Football is supposed to be a funny game and, heaven knows, Capello is due a smile, if not a kind word.
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