September 22, 2010

Cheats: Nobody Prospers

‘Not cricket’ is a phrase that goes beyond those cultures where the game is actually played. Even Americans understand that it refers to acts of impropriety that simply go beyond the pale. It stems from the traditional uprightness of the sport itself, its respected laws, and the sporting conduct of its practitioners. When John Major unwisely (at least as far as political expediency is concerned) told us to ‘get back to basics’ in the ‘90s, he exemplified the point by saying that it would be a good idea for people new to Britain to understand the laws of cricket, for therein the foundations of civil society lie exemplified. To Tom Brown, cricket was ‘more than a game’: it was ‘the Birthright of British boys, old and young, as trial by jury and habeas corpus are of British men’. The historical weight of this kind of symbolism makes it all the more galling that cricket is being besmirched by corruption and greed, and is taking place in an atmosphere of suspicion and bad blood. Cricket at the moment is, for want of a better term, ‘not cricket’.

In Pakistan, cricketers are the nation’s rock stars. At the top of their profession, these men are incredibly well paid and serve as the admired idols of millions. Amid Pakistan’s social, political and environmental catastrophes, the national cricket team has had the opportunity to represent the spirit, the pride, and the hope of a nation. The abject miseries of a people can be lifted by experiencing vicariously the successes of their brethren. The spirit of emulation – in diligence, perseverance, and skill – may foster better days. The charges before these young and privileged professionals, and the officials surrounding them, are grave. What shall we think if it transpires that they had not the strength of character to refuse the advances of bookmakers and the glistering prizes of corruption? It would be a disgrace. That the Pakistani Cricket Board throws stones from within its small glass house is shameless. That honourable men must consider defamation suits against dishonourable men within the world of cricket will do long-term damage to the game. And above all, that the people of Pakistan, in desperate times, may see their heroes on the make, will pour scorn on their own travails. A wounded nation can not be expected to endure these insults.

Although I am certain that the cancer will be cut out of the game, the recovery will be slow. It is not only the cheats who will not prosper. The honest are tainted by the misdeeds of their peers, and the public has had its trust shaken. Decisive action is necessary in order to demonstrate that the game values its integrity before all other considerations. I trust that the authorities will have the courage of their convictions.

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