September 10, 2010

Match-fixing

The startling amnesia of Giles Clarke

Andy Zaltzman
Giles Clarke hands Mohammad Amir his Player-of-the-Series medal, fourth Test, England v Pakistan, Lord's, August 29, 2010
Giles Clarke: clearly a stranger to the concept of irony  © Getty Images
Enlarge

RELATED LINKS

Hello Confectionery Stallers. I have been tied up for the last few weeks attempting to entertain the masses at the Edinburgh Fringe festival (if you will excuse a numerically inappropriate use of the word “masses”), and latterly with unexpected family commitments, and to be honest I could not have chosen a better time in which to be almost fully distracted from cricket.

Cricket has itself been fully distracted from cricket, buffeted about in an inevitable typhoon of outrage and sanctimony, as the latest unfolding gambling farrago batters the sport like a cheap sausage, all amidst the queasily sinking suspicion that this particular Titanic has not quite finished ramming into what may be a distressingly large iceberg.

Here are the official Confectionery Stall thoughts on the most cricketingly depressing story of recent years.

1. It was slightly odd to see ECB chairman Giles Clarke being so affronted by Mohammad Amir that he simply could not bring himself to look at the bowler when presenting him with the Man Of The Series Award after the Lord’s Test-match-cum-debacle. Whilst all cricket fans are, without doubt, disgusted by the alleged spot-fixing, and saddened that it should have involved the most exciting young player in the game, it should be remembered that Clarke himself has not proved immune to the allure of taking easy money from dubious sources.

Just two years ago Clarke and the ECB prostituted the England cricket team to Texan billionaire and current resident of the Federal Detention Centre, Houston, USA, Allen Stanford, who pitched up at Lord’s in a fake helicopter with 20 fake million dollars in mostly fake dollars bills.

Merely hearing the words “Texan tycoon” and “cricket” in the same sentence should have set alarm bells twanging. The helicopter and Perspex-coated wodge of cash should have made them go off like a hungry-monkey enclosure at a slightly delayed feeding time. But the ECB willingly bent over and pimped out the national cricket team to such an extent that they might as well have made them all go out to bat up in fishnet stockings and push-up bras, whilst a threatening-looking gangster stood by the scorebox taking 90% of their runs away and counting them for himself.

Months later, after one toe-curlingly awkward and flirtatious cricket match, Stanford was accused by no less an authority than the United States Securities and Exchange Commission of one of the biggest frauds in human history, and the ECB emerged from the whole humiliating episode with egg not just on its face but stuck in its hair, caked all over its once-woolly jumper, and dribbling apologetically down its cash-stained trousers, a walking omelette of a sporting organisation.

For Clarke, the man who sold his nation’s cricket team to be a tycoon’s plaything, to refuse to shake hands with someone accused of accepting cash from someone dodgy for doing something he patently should not be doing, perhaps shows the lack of self-awareness required to be a successful businessman and sports administrator.

Clarke is not alone. One cursory glance at the ICC international schedule reveals that organisation’s pathological inability to say “No, thanks” to money, its steadfast refusal to protect the soul of cricket from commercial interference.

None of this is intended to justify the alleged actions of the accused players, but to highlight the fact that few at the highest level in cricket have shown much ability, willingness or effort to spurn the attractions of money and place the integrity and welfare of the game ahead of financial acquisitiveness.

2. Nevertheless Clarke deserves credit for calling for a proper, communal effort to aid Pakistani cricket in its seemingly endless Hour Of Need, an hour which has now stretched some way beyond the standard 60 minutes, and which, for various reasons, shows no signs of being interested in taking a breather and being at least temporarily replaced with an Hour Of Stability, or a Few Minutes Of Hope, or even a Quick Tea-And-Biscuit Break of Normality.

As they have proved again this summer, Pakistan’s cricket team is generally the most fascinating, irritating, compelling and frustrating in world cricket. Their bowlers, in particular Amir and Mohammad Asif, have regularly made budget porcelain mugs of both England and Australia’s batting line-ups, whilst their batsmen have made a strong, prolonged and resolutely determined statistical case for being the most inept to have visited England in more than 50 years.

Cricket needs Pakistan, and whilst it is true that Pakistan cricket has not traditionally been the most reliable friend to itself, the world of cricket must set aside its various vested interests and strive to ensure that Pakistan cricket remains alive in the international arena.

3. Human history shows that, in general:

  • many humans throughout history have found easy money far more attractive than hard money (for examples, see, for example, the recent history and current state of the global economy, the MPs’ expenses scandal in Britain, the existence of the Cayman Islands, the IPL);
  • financial inequality leads to wrongdoing (it must be much easier to spurn the offer of a few thousand pounds if you are already earning a few hundred thousand);
  • where gambling is legal, legal gambling thrives; where gambling is illegal, illegal gambling thrives; where illegal gambling thrives, people become aggressively naughty; people like gambling (witness the popularity of religion – what greater punt can there be in life than betting for or against an afterlife?);
  • teenagers thrust rapidly into the public spotlight frequently balls things up; and
  • when a British tabloid newspaper starts taking the moral high ground, you know things have gone very, very badly wrong.

4. The ICC has, evidently, not adequately decapitated the particularly snakey Medusa of cricket corruption. ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, has, however, stated unequivocally: “We will not tolerate corruption in this great game.”

It is reassuring to know that there is at least one thing in the universe that the ICC will not tolerate. Amongst the things it will tolerate are:

  • the potentially terminal decline of cricket in some once-great Test playing nations;
  • the premature elevation to Test status of nations due to political and commercial vested interests;
  • large amounts of money from TV companies in return for artificially and soullessly elongating one-day tournaments;
  • shamelessly pricing local cricket fans out of attending said tournaments, leading to embarrassingly sparse attendance at showpiece events;
  • international schedules, pitches and regulations designed to break bowlers;
  • infantilically draconian restrictions on what paying spectators are allowed to wear or consume inside cricket grounds;
  • being held to ransom by various other organisations with three- or four-letter acronyms;
  • needlessly snoozy over-rates;
  • umpires leading players off for bad light whenever they get a bit peckish;
  • idiotic implementation of an untested and patently-unready TV umpiring system;
  • Daryl Harper being allowed control of said system;
  • sundry other bloopers.

Still, it is nice to know that the ICC will draw the line somewhere. And that line is at corruption (of the on-the-field variety, at least).

5. Amir, if found guilty, deserves another chance. Who knows what pressures he was under and from whom? If he was being urged by some or all of his captain, team-mates, his agent, gambling gangsters, the Pope, and/or the FBI to bowl no-balls and he caved in to those demands, with minimal impact on the game, whilst simultaneously obliterating England’s batting in one of the finest displays of bowling seen at Lord’s in years, is that surprising? His brilliance with the ball and determination with the bat were not indicative of a man unconcerned by the performance of his team.

If and when the full story emerges, it may be that Amir is seen to be a naive pawn in a game beyond his control. It may emerge that he was a fully willing participant. Either way he deserves both an appropriate period of punishment and a second opportunity. And it will help, if and when he is afforded that second chance, if the PCB does more to prevent the tentacles of temptation winding their way into the dressing room. Its tactic of sticking its fingers in its ears and singing 1980s rock ballads at the top of its voice does not seem to have worked.

6. Spot-fixing is a curious beast. The fraud of the kind and scale that seems to have taken place at Lord’s has far less influence on the game than, for example, the widening gulf in finance and facilities between different Test-playing nations, batsmen not walking, incompetent umpiring, or poor pitches. As Amir’s performances have shown, it is possible to be fully committed to helping your team win and to break cardinal rules of sporting fairness and honesty at the same time.

If spot-fixing ever migrates into stand-up comedy, I and my fellow comedians will be permanently under the spotlight. Was that joke about the International Monetary Fund simply not funny or did I deliberately flunk the punchline? It would be almost impossible to tell. I have had gigs during my career in which audiences seemed to think I had purposefully tanked every single joke in my set.

7. Until scientists stop piddling around trying to find out why dogs bark at cats, and what happens if you feed nothing but pastrami and gherkin bagels to a laboratory orangutan, and instead focus on developing a cure for people with an unquenchable urge to bet on when no-balls are bowled in cricket matches, these controversies will continue to occur.

Meanwhile, in the cricket, England are playing well in a series of training matches.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

RSS Feeds: Andy Zaltzman

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by shiva subramanian on (September 29, 2010, 9:48 GMT)

thought provoking & witty at the same time.

Posted by nadeem sherwani on (September 22, 2010, 3:43 GMT)

Can all of us atleast wait till the seemingly endless investigations against the players are over? If the NOTW video was such an ironclad piece of evidence, why hasn't the Scotland yard able to bring charges against them till now? Great piece though Andy By the way 'England seems to be doing well in training games' eh? Its never good to lose training games.. is it?

Posted by Amber on (September 21, 2010, 15:03 GMT)

Oh-kay, well, the part about England playing training matches hurt..! hey, Pakistan *can* be a good side... at times... we've proved that, right? Apart from that, i did like the article. Amir *so* should be given another chance.... he's only eighteen!! and *such* a find! i believe the English would've lost all the ODIs had he been in the side :(

Posted by Nasser Ali Khan on (September 21, 2010, 14:16 GMT)

Brilliant article!

Regarding Aamer: 1. It should be irrelevant how good or not a performer is he. 2. What is most relevant though, is for the public to be informed of the exact circumstances in which he was actually involved. Most probably, it would seem that as an 18-yr old member of the team, he would have been under severe pressure to "toe the line" even if he may himself may not have wanted to do so. For this reason alone, he should be given a second chance, but at the same time to serve a period of punishment severe enough to send the right message to all current and future players. 3. The ICC must install a transparent, clear and a severe code of behaviour for all cricketers worldwide. 4. The media must not be allowed to start rumours without evidence to the public, and to target certain nationalities only. 5. Finally, the ICC must get its house in order and the national bodies should be accountable to it.

Posted by Ricki Sorrell on (September 21, 2010, 6:55 GMT)

It seems England are well on their way to losing a series of training matches against a 'second string' attack.

Posted by Noor on (September 20, 2010, 23:39 GMT)

Mr. Giles please accept my apology for the behavior of my countrymen. Pakistan's cricket has been represented by fools and greedy people and unfortunately if any decent Pakistani tell them that what they are doing is wrong they will not accept and try to blame the whole world. I am ashamed of my fellow Pakistani I try to write on "Pak Spin" but my post that criticizing the wrongs doesn't get published, unfortunately there are very few people who think that what the Pakistani are doing is wrong instead of building bridges they want to destroy relationship.

Posted by MartinAmber on (September 20, 2010, 21:04 GMT)

Brilliant. If only someone with your perspective on Clarke and the ICC, both loathed for so long by many English cricket fans, had been writing in ANY newspaper these last few weeks. Even the best of them just wrote about this subject with no shades of grey at all. Any reader would have come away thinking it worse than what happened in Lahore just 18 months ago

Posted by Taimur Khan on (September 20, 2010, 12:04 GMT)

"let he who has not sinned throw the first stone". Let us burn 18 year old prodigy Amir who comes from a mountain village and earns over an entire summer half the money the untalented Ishant Sharma earns from bowling a single ball! Let us burn him without considering what pressure he was under, and by whom. Let us burn him without considering where he comes from, what sort of security Pakistan offers to him and his family if he chose to fight against the tentacles of organized crime! India is home to illegal gambling. Where is ICC's high moral ground w.r.t. India? The malaise has likely infected all of them. I can bet (sic.) the ECB, BCCI, ACB, PCB etc. are all involved up to their ears. Nobody ever strung up the big fish, however. Poor Amir's a low level pawn with little freedom of action...once they ask him to take a dive he takes a dive...period! At the same time, despite his talent, he is expendable and the fat cats arn't..because they can take other fat cats down with them!

Posted by Salman on (September 19, 2010, 15:27 GMT)

What a shame this bunch of looters and their agents have brought again to this country...it is an insult on our nation by these pathetic faces!!!

The indian controlled ICC is openly playing their dirty game, and every tom-dick and harry's criminal bookie phone call is now a lead into new investigations against our players, who are the best in the world....and the whole parliament and PCB sits and watch this nonsense that is crossing all limits....

We need to stop this insane plot in which, as our crooked leader Zardari, is his agent Ijaz butt, playing the pivotal role, by showing a pathetic face after every insult that the ICC has put on the face of our country, our players.

the indian controlled ICC, Ijaz butt and all the bookies involved need to be caught and put on trial in Pakistan....we need to stop this nonsense ....wherever there is indian hands there is a conspricay and corruption and politics, and cricket is dead if indians are allowed their dirty games, like in Afghanistan

Posted by Kashif Siraj on (September 18, 2010, 21:05 GMT)

"Pakistan, the gods of cricket"

I mean seriously, this team supposedly cheats when they lose and they cheat when they win. There is no other possible explanation for their wins or losses. This makes them undisputable gods of cricket as this implies that no team has the potential, talent and resources enough to enforce a defeat or lose to Pakistan against their will.

The allegation of Pakistan fixing (spot) the 3rd ODI suggests that they can win from any position against this hapless English team as the english team does not stand a chance against the gods of cricket in a fair competitive match.

Where is Pakistan's sports Minister? Busy minting money in IPL or CLT20? A very pissed off Pakistani Fan

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

All articles by this writer