Cricket as a metaphor – by Irfan Husain

Another day, another scandal. Judging from the media coverage of the cricket betting sting first reported by the News of the World, it would appear that there are no floods devastating the country; that millions have not been displaced; and that all is well with the country.

Indeed, it would seem that this innocent nation has just had its first experience of corruption. The shock and horror being expressed in newspaper columns, letters to editors, and on TV talk shows would make anybody think that nobody in our fair land has ever been accused or guilty of misusing his position to illegally line his pocket. But as the brickbats begin to fly – with many wanting to string up the accused cricketers – some Pakistanis have begun formulating a defence. This is the default position we tend to take whenever we are accused of wrongdoing by foreigners. A friend has just sent me this email from a certain Dr Owais. I am reproducing it here, mistakes and all:

“I believe they are not corrupt… or involve in any way. It’s just British conspiracy to hide their mistakes … especially the player who hit Pakistani player and attack him … NO 1 talk about that … every 1 is discussing against Pakistan … Its show hate of english man toward us.”

Another argument was presented in a TV programme featuring two popular anchors. To start with, they sneered at the News of the World for being a tabloid that had occasionally lost libel suits in the UK for printing allegations they could not prove. But they failed to mention the fact that nine times out of ten, the muckraking newspaper has nailed its targets, with politicians being forced to resign after unsavoury details about their private lives were published.

It is certainly true that we are often too swift to rush to judgment. But in this case, I would like to know how anybody outside Lord’s could possibly predict precisely when a no-ball would be bowled by a particular bowler. Mathematically, such a coincidence is too remote to be even considered, especially when it happens three times. Combined with the footage the undercover journalist has provided of the sleazy character who collected 150,000 pounds on camera, it would certainly seem there is a smoking gun before us. Finally, no British newspaper, no matter how sensational, would risk a major libel case by concocting such a story without solid proof. I feel particularly sorry for young Mohammed Amir, the rising bowling star who has been caught up in the sting operation. Here is a hugely gifted 18-year old who sees a promising career collapsing before his eyes. Clearly, he became involved not just out of greed, but due to peer group pressure. When older players told him that bowling the odd no-ball was a harmless thing, and that it would net him some extra cash, he might easily have gone along. I recall starting smoking in college because cool friends of mine did. But then you don’t get arrested for smoking; you just go to an early grave.

Another thing we forget in our hypocritical fury is that it is not possible to isolate one institution or group of people, and demand that they maintain higher standards than the rest of society. When just about everybody who can, milks the system, why should we expect our cricketers to be clean? The argument that they are well-paid does not hold water: most of the politicians, generals, judges, bankers, businessmen, cops and bureaucrats who are routinely on the take are not exactly starving. So when they grow up in an environment where corruption is the norm, not the exception, why pretend such surprise to find these young men have tried to cash in on their position as international cricketers?

Then there is the question of the fleeting nature of stardom. While a few talented cricketers have long and illustrious careers, most fall by the wayside. Even top players retire in their mid-thirties when their bodies and reflexes can no longer perform at the highest level. And with younger, fitter players snapping at their heels, the competition to stay in the national team is fierce.

Many young players are from lower-middle class families with little education and no qualifications other than their abilities with bat or ball. Having learned their cricket in lanes and rough fields, they are all too aware of what poverty means. Can one blame them for not wanting to return to the squalor they have risen out of? Without wanting to excuse the accused players of the crime they are being charged with, I am trying to understand the motives behind their actions.

For years now, rumours of match-fixing have swirled around our national squad. To be sure, our cricketers are not the only ones to face such accusations: India, Australia and South Africa have all contended with their share of similar scandals in the past. But it is our team that has been the focus of more controversy than any other. Suddenly, dismal past performances are being re-examined in a different light. Was the Sydney Test deliberately thrown away, as many suggested at the time following a miraculous Australian victory over us? Cynically, several recent results in England appear to be bizarre to the point of being suspicious.

This, of course, is the problem with match-fixing: people begin questioning the validity of past results, and the genuine ones also become suspect. In the past, there have been a series of cover-ups and fudges. Even when there was strong evidence, top players got off with a rap on the knuckles, or a fine. Suspensions were curtailed if a player was valuable enough. The signal this wishy-washy attitude sent out was that even if you were caught, you could still emerge from ‘inquiries’ with reputation intact.

Our cricket administration has been very lax about team discipline, with stars being allowed to get away with all manner of antics. Top players have effectively blackmailed the cricket board to meet their terms. But again, the administrators are a product of our society and a system that prefers to close its eyes rather than take tough action. Given these factors, it is hard to see how cricket can be cleansed of corruption when the whole country is so tainted by it.

Source: Dawn