Tour Down Under now fair game for sceptics
The Lord's Test allegations cast doubt on Australia's remarkable win over Pakistan in Sydney this year, writes Peter Roebuck
Tuesday 31 August 2010
Cricket is in a fix and has been for years. Now, the Lord's Test appears to have been added to the toll of infamy. In the wake of this latest scandal, the match between Australia and Pakistan at Sydney in January this year has also been cast into doubt.
Two memories linger from that SCG Test match, the second of the series, which was purloined by a delighted and surprised Australian team. On the day before the Test, the Pakistan side attended a mosque and arrived a little late for practice. I had arranged to interview Mohammad Yousuf, the captain, who talked thoughtfully about his conversion to Islam in 2005 and the displeasure of his Christian father, a former sweeper at Lahore railway station. The Pakistan team seemed cheerful. Yousuf himself came across as likeable, though wary. But then Pakistan and its cricketers have always lived on a knife-edge.
A few days later, after Ricky Ponting chose to bat first on a damp pitch, the visitors had the Australians at their mercy – skittling them and securing a big lead, reduced only by reckless lower-order swiping.
Australia struggled in their second innings as well, and by the time Peter Siddle joined Michael Hussey Pakistan led by an innings and 51 with two wickets remaining. The game was up. Suddenly, on that fourth evening, the visitors spread the field wide for Hussey, whose form had been rotten, and concentrated on his partner. It's a strange tactic but quite popular. Experts were scathing in their denunciation. Did Pakistan not realise they were winning?
No one expected to see a repetition of this idiocy on the final morning. By then Australia led by 80, but the bowlers were fresh and the strategists had surely come to their senses.
What followed was a frustrating and unsettling morning session. Far from putting pressure on the batsmen, Yousuf began with seven men on the boundary. In an instant, the atmosphere went flat. Hussey might as well have been in the nets. Nor was Siddle attacked with intent. Commentators were beside themselves. It was awful to watch.
As far as present purposes are concerned, the most disturbing moment came when Siddle gloved a lifter down the leg side. It was a straightforward catch, but Kamran Akmal dropped it. It looked bad. Already he had missed three stumping chances and kindly observers put it down to a crisis of confidence.
Eventually the Australians were dismissed, leaving Pakistan to chase 176. The rest had an air of inevitability. Salman Butt's wicket was crucial and it took a brilliant catch to remove him. Kamran Akmal played another hot-headed stroke, while Yousuf drilled a return catch and the tail-enders simply slogged. Pakistan were beaten by 36 runs.
No one quite knew what to make of it. Some felt it had been a glorious win for Australia. Others argued that it had been a ridiculous defeat for the visitors. On the taxi trip from the ground that night, a senior Pakistani reporter received numerous calls telling him that the fix had been in. Having heard it all before, he put it down to the hysteria of defeat. But the local cricket community leant more towards conspiracy than cock-up. Perhaps it had elements of both.
Thereafter, Pakistan's tour disintegrated. Kamran was dumped for the next match and his younger brother threatened to withdraw in protest. The wicketkeeper kept the gloves but his side were hammered.
Various past captains began to arrive for the one-day matches. Younus Khan had resigned months before, saying his players were trying harder to remove him than to win. His earnest if slightly erratic leadership was much missed now.
Then the visitors contrived to lose an extraordinary Twenty20 contest at Melbourne Cricket Ground. Shahid Afridi joined the fray, only to be banned in Perth after mistaking the ball for a sandwich.
Pakistan did not win a single match on the entire tour. Afterwards, the national cricket board called in the players, banned a few, fined a few others, sacked the coach and generally waxed indignant. A new captain was appointed, Waqar Younis was chosen to manage the side and Ijaz Ahmed was rescued from the Qayyum report to advise the batsmen. Justice Qayyum himself, the judge asked to investigate match- fixing more than a decade ago, complained that his recommendations had been ignored and that the problems would go on resurfacing.
He seems to have been right. To date, six Pakistan captains have been implicated in match-fixing. But it's not only them: the greed is widespread and takes many forms. Cricket is in dire need of tough action and honest brokers. It isn't alone in that.
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