So, the cricket season has been signed off with, based on the Cambridge weather, perfect timing (we are set for a few days of rain here, on the back of a so-far sunny September). The domestic season came to an end last weekend as Somerset lost to Warwickshire in the CB40 final at Lord’s, confirming a season for them that has meant being runners-up in all 3 domestic competitions: the Twenty20 and County Championship as well as the CB40. And then, there was the last international ODI yesterday, in which England managed to seal the series 3-2, having let a 2-0 lead slip. Now we wait for this afternoon’s announcement of the Ashes and Performance Squads due to head to Australia in November.
Except, of course, the result of the ODI series and the forthcoming Ashes are the last things on the minds of cricket fans. Cricket continues, following the News of the World’s orginal stories, to be caught up in the scandal of both match- and spot-fixing. It has got to such a point that players have been caught scrapping and people have started issuing legal threats. When the NotW first published its stories, and produced the video evidence, I thought we might move on quite quickly – the players were suspended, the ICC said it would investigate, the police were clearly doing the things they needed to do when investigating a crime. But then we had another player questioned and there were items about the possibility of match-fixing being involved as well. And then, to cap it all, we had the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) suggest that England had deliberately thrown the 3rd ODI for money. He argues that what he said did not amount to a direct accusation, that he was simply repeating what he had heard without suggesting he believed it. If he didn’t believe it, why did he even mention it? If he thought it was just bravado on the behalf of some bookmakers then he could have ignored it, rather than mention it in an interview with an Indian tv channel (India is the biggest cricketing nation in the world, so he would have known the comments would be picked up instantly). And what, it has to be asked, is the chairman of the PCB doing in a situation where he is able to pick up on such comments by bookmakers – betting is illegal in Pakistan, which is one of the many complex reasons why it seems Pakistan is so caught up in this mess. Pakistan cricket is in a mess and seems rife with influence from criminal factions – the last thing they need is to be headed up by a man who clearly has connections himself to such an underground world! He should go, and quick.
That said, I am surprised by the reaction of the ECB. The England players clearly feel very upset, but given the current atmosphere and the focus of so many people on the current situation, did they not realise that after such a dismal collapse some people would call the result into question? I am not, for one minute, suggesting they threw the game – my, admittedly limited, understanding of how the ECB works with its players means I find it highly unlikely, indeed nigh on impossible, to believe even one player, let alone a significant number, could have been influenced. But nonetheless, I don’t think the question is illegitimate. I acknowledge that the circumstances surrounding Pakistan cricket in particular, and more generally the sub-continent, where cricket is even more part of the national culure than football is in Europe, mean that it does seem they are most at risk from such nefarious interference in the sport – but that does not mean we can become complacent and just assume the game in this country is safe from such influence. It is a distinct shame that the remarkable work of Umar Gul to achieve what he did in that 3rd match should be questioned, least of all by the chairman of his own Cricket Board, but in the circumstances it is hardly a surprise someone questioned it – legal action may be felt necessary by the ECB and their captain, but what I want, what I think most fans want, is to get back to a situation where we can genuinely believe that what is happening on the oval is genuine effort. And for that to happen it’s not suing one another that’s needed, it’s the investigation and, if necessary, charging of players, and wholesale changes to the currents systems so that players know that they cannot get away with dishonest activities.
And while talking about sport on the subcontinent I thought I would also briefly mention the Commonwealth Games. Of course, we’re currently in a situation where we don’t actually know if the games will go ahead properly since so many teams are reviewing going because of issues over the accommodation and its quality and safety. I cannot help but agree, looking at the pictures, that if I were an athlete I would not want to be moving into the accommodation as it currently is and I would have strong doubts as to whether it could ever be got ready on time. The people in charge of the project have clearly got their timings terribly wrong. But I would also argue that they have got some of their other decisions wrong as well – do athletes really need full wet-rooms and ultramodern-looking sinks? What’s wrong with your basic pedestal-sink and shower cubicle? Especially in a nation such as India, where vast numbers still live in terrible poverty, and most would be glad of whatever basic facilities they could have – one wonders whether the money for the games has been spent on making sure the Villages looks good, rather than ensuring enough workers were available to build it on time, workers who would no doubt be glad of the income. And that, I guess, is the final point – it will be a shame if the Commonwealth Games don’t happen, and the current condition of the accommodation is clearly not good, but should the fact that some athletes aren’t able to be treated to some luxury really upset us so much when vast numbers of people in the world would give almost anything to live in such accommodation even as it is now? Maybe the Games should go ahead with the athletes living with local people – now that would be interesting!