James Lawton: Why will this series carry on to the bitter end? Because money makes cricket's world go round
Tuesday 21 September 2010
One of the more enduring pleasures of televised cricket, in whatever catchpenny form it is presented, is the droll commentary of David Lloyd. However, the great Bumble just may have dissipated some of his large bank deposit of affection yesterday when he told the nation: "One thing we must major on is that this could be a cracking game of cricket."
He was, apparently, speaking from Lord's and the penultimate one-day international between England and Pakistan. Or was it from Mars or Pluto?
It could have been either when you thought about it. His declaration, after all, required us to pretend that we had also been involved in a spot of interplanetary travel while the credibility of yesterday's events, and all those that had preceded it, could well have been placed in the hands of not the International Cricket Council but the World Wrestling Federation.
Of course, Lloyd was strictly accurate in stating the potential for fireworks at Lord's yesterday. Where he was wrong, and profoundly so, was in digging down for the suggestion that anyone should "major" on such a possibility. Unfortunately, the reality was that there could only be one valid preoccupation. This concerned the leap of faith required to believe in anything put before our eyes.
The reason why the activities of the WWF are classed as entertainment rather than sport is that the professional wrestling ring is one of the last places on earth where you expect to find competitive integrity. For the moment cricket matches, however unfair this is to individual cricketers, including some of those representing Pakistan, is in the same doleful category. It is why all pretences should have been dropped on that bleak day at Lord's last month when Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, handed an award to young Mohammad Aamer with such disdain he might have been handing a recalcitrant roadsweeper his P45.
Anyone who was at Lord's on that occasion will wear the experience as though it is a widow's weed. It certainly seemed like the death of something, and not least the brilliant prospects of Aamer, who had brought such uplift a couple of days earlier with seam bowling that ranked with some of the most thrilling anyone had ever seen. The idea that the scheduled Twenty20 and one day-games would proceed as normal seemed utterly bizarre then – as it does now in the latest barrage of accusations of spot-fixing, pre-ordained scoring patterns and the charge by the head of Pakistan cricket that England players went for the jackpot when throwing the last one-dayer at The Oval.
The anguished question the last few days has been why has this dreadful farce been allowed to seep, like a bad stain, into the autumn? This is not to believe the latest rash of claims and counter-claims, just to recognise the amount of damage that has already been sustained and is in such dire need of speedy repair.
It is to see that yesterday's game only happened for fear that the last legs of a grossly elongated piece of money-grubbing might be lost from the coffers of the ECB. Sometimes in life it is necessary to cut your losses, step back and try to rebuild something from the ruins of disaster.
The decision, though, was to plough on in pursuit of the remaining revenue to be gleaned from a horrible misadventure. It has, sadly, been utterly consistent with the mores of a game which some time ago put profit before principle.
The problem with such a declaration of priorities is that you don't really know where it is going to end. For some of us the heart- rending debate among England cricketers about whether they should return to India to fulfil a contractual obligation to play two Test matches in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist outrage two years ago was not quite the simon-pure agonising painted by some of their representatives.
One of the agents declared: "The players have to think of the feelings of their families – and they don't want to became pawns in the political debate between the English and Indian boards."
Earlier, while the team was marooned in India surrounded by a battalion of security troops, Kevin Pietersen reported that his team-mates had been wearing down their mobile phone batteries while consulting with their families.
A difficult situation it was, no doubt, but at no stage was it possible to put aside the cynical thought that the eventual decision to return to India was significantly fuelled by the need not to endanger heavy earnings in the new Indian Premier League.
This may not be directly connected to the weight of doubt that for so long has engulfed this damned series of matches between England and Pakistan, no more than was the unseemly rush, without due diligence, to roll with such little dignity in the millions being tossed around by the accused fraudster Allen Stanford, but it is not hard to see a pattern.
It is one where money, illegal or not, has become the most persuasive factor in the most vital decisions affecting the future of cricket.
The ECB should have announced that day at Lord's that there could be only one imperative after the News of the World's damning investigation into the activities of key members of the Pakistan team. It was to isolate the problem and say that, in its shadow, all attempts to force-feed a sense of resumed propriety, and collect a dwindling profit, could only add to the doubts and the dismay.
It might be a cracking match at Lord's, said Bumble. But how on earth would he be able to tell?
Hatton must focus on real fight of his life and rule out a return to the ring
Ricky Hatton's breakfast time TV confessional has, not surprisingly, gleaned much sympathy and support. He is a popular figure who earned great credit for pursuing the best boxing talent available but, as so often is the case, mere celebrity is providing something of a critical cushion against some of life's harsher realities.
His position now, surely, is not exactly heroic but more a case of a failure to step beyond the glory and put something back into a business which for many years served him extremely well.
He has presented himself as a patron of boxing, a gym master and promoter of the best of the young talent that seeks his guidance. Instead, he has wallowed in self-indulgence since Manny Pacquiao separated him from the illusion that he belonged in the very highest class, as Floyd Mayweather had done some time earlier.
There was, in all honesty, a worrying signal in Las Vegas the morning after he was laid waste by Pacman. His representative said that, for the first time, Hatton would not face his public, or at least their representatives in the media. The boxing writers were told that it was their opportunity to repay all the favours they had been given over the years.
This, presumably, was to identify all the years of ticket-selling hype. Ricky Hatton, MBE, will require courage to shake his drug and alcohol habits, and we know well enough that he has more than enough of it. We can only hope that he puts it to its best use, including the honesty to admit that a return to the ring would be another folly.
Hernandez runs risk of taking his pre-match supplication too far
it is some relief to learn it is no more than a mischievous rumour that Javier Hernandez, Manchester United's devout young Mexican striker, is planning to make his next appearance at Old Trafford in the company of a life-size statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Javier's last pre-match gesture, a kneeling supplication in the centre circle, was perhaps pushing matters a little far, even for those drawn to the beauty and meaning of Catholic ritual.
It was certainly a reminder of the time a young boxer representing his college said to his trainer, who was a priest from Co Cork, "Father, should I cross myself before each round?"
He was told, "By all means, my son, but it won't mean much if you keep on forgetting your fecking jab."
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