Leading article: A blow to the spirit of the game

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The politics of cricket in Pakistan have always been a mystery to outsiders. Captains and players come and go for no discernible reason, their changes in status the apparent consequence of unseen forces. This is a milieu in which sporting prowess helps but is not the sole criterion for success, and in which powerful businesses have a stake in reaching certain outcomes.

The latest revelations of alleged betting scams in the Test match against England, therefore, are disappointing but not entirely shocking. Nor does it serve much purpose to wring our hands about the sad fate of an honourable game and express pious hopes that players will behave in a more ethical fashion in future. Clearly, factors are at work other than players' individual consciences or their greed to obtain extra cash.

The wider context is of often extremely poor young men who find themselves pitchforked into an elite society distinguished by immense wealth and celebrity and which follows a very different value system from the one with which they were familiar.

This is more than the age-old tale of youth corrupted and disorientated by bright lights and luxury. The society in which these players move is heavily penetrated by business interests that routinely engage in match-fixing because the fate of huge sums can depend on it. Whatever the circumstances of this case turn out to be, in the past it has often been a matter of: "Take the money – or else."

None of this means that we should acquiesce in corruption in cricket or any other sport. Indeed, this whole saga is very sad. It is damaging to the reputation of cricket, and is another blow to Pakistan, a country that is still partly under water and desperately in need of good news. Misgoverned for decades, it has a political class that contains few people whom anyone seriously looks up to for moral inspiration – hence, in part, the almost fanatical devotion to a sport that supposedly incarnates the ideal of fair play.

The people of Pakistan deserve better than to have it rubbed in their faces that this is not the case. Nor can the international cricketing authorities afford to shrug their shoulders and just accept that teams from poor countries don't follow the same ethical code as the rest. But they must accept the limits of what can be done to tackle a phenomenon that is deeply rooted and reflects a wider malaise in the country. Getting rid of a few bad apples will help but won't solve this problem. Vigilance tempered by realism would seem the only course.

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