May 25, 2013

How do we help players help themselves?

If there is any kind of fixing going on, the players are not to blame

It's been a bad week for the reputation of the cricket professional. The world's Sexiest Vegetarian (2009) is currently helping police with their enquiries, and all sorts of scurrilous allegations - only some of which are accurate - are being made about the men without whom the game of cricket would simply not exist.

Sadly, professional cricketers are accustomed to this indignity. There are haters everywhere. You can see it in their eyes when they ask you to sign your autobiography. You spent a whole afternoon answering that ghost-writer's boring questions about stuff that happened ages ago, when you could have been on the golf course. Do the haters appreciate your hard work and sacrifice? No, they don't. They probably won't even finish reading it.

Sometimes the haters follow you round the supermarket, silently hating you for what you've achieved. You can see them in the line at the deli counter, resentfully fingering their numbered tickets, as the manager brings you out a selection of chorizo on a velvet cushion.

As David Warner pointed out this week, haters are always trying to "bag" you. This is an Australian expression that originated from the spiteful practice of small-minded townsfolk in the early 19th century, who roamed the New South Wales countryside trying to capture rare, beautiful and talented butterflies, putting them in bags so that they couldn't show off their gorgeous wings and delight passersby with their splendour.

This week, the baggers and haters have been all over Twitter, going on about fixing, no-balls, towels, and so on. So let's make one thing clear. If there is any kind of fixing going on, the players are not to blame. The problem is one of education.

Imagine you're eight years old. Now imagine it's your sister's birthday. Her birthday cake is in the kitchen. There's no one around. So you sneak in and help yourself to a piece of cake. Then you get caught and your parents scold you, telling you that if you ever do that again, you won't be allowed to watch the adventures of Super Sachin on the cartoon channel.

So you learn your lesson. But rewind that scene. What if your parents don't scold you? Then, what if 15 years later, you've got an IPL contract and a man with a sinister moustache approaches you in a bar and offers to pay you thousands of dollars to fix a match? You remember what happened when you stole your sister's birthday cake. Nothing happened when you stole your sister's birthday cake. So naturally you take the money.

You see how it happens. Young players who don't know the difference between wrong and right, who've gone through their whole lives not realising that it's wrong to rob a bank, or to lie on oath, or to set off a firework in a veterinary surgery, are easy prey for unscrupulous men who seduce them with apparently innocent propositions such as: "If you deliberately bowl a no-ball I'll give you lots of money."

So education is vital. That's why we should all get behind the ICC's "Don't Accept Money From People You Just Met In Exchange For Bowling A No-Ball" campaign. Please also take the time to sign the e-petition circulating on the internet demanding that illegal bookies wear name badges identifying themselves as illegal bookies. Remember, it's not about naming, shaming or blaming: it's about helping players to help themselves.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here