September 3, 2010

It could happen in India as well

Corruption is not Pakistan's sole preserve, quick money threatens to lure young cricketers elsewhere too

At the heart of Mohammad Amir's stupidity, at the core of what is happening to a beautiful game, which is in the hands of ordinary people in Pakistan, lies one very basic question that every cricketer should have asked himself at some point: why do I play this game?

If the answer is that you want to excel at the one thing that you are good at, that you want to find the limits of your ability, that you relish the challenge of a competition, that you get goose pimples putting on your country's colours and walking out to the expectations of your countrymen, you will pursue those goals and take whatever reward you get. Invariably it will be handsome.

If the answer is that you want to earn a good living as quickly as you can, that you want to bask in the comforts of the material pleasures that your talent delivers to you, you will take whatever financial inducement comes your way. Inevitably it will be tainted, inevitably the dessert will be laced.

It is our choices that tell us who we are.

But these choices can be influenced; sometimes, and I hope never, young players can be coerced into walking down a specific path. And so it comes down to the air they breathe when their minds are still fragile. It could be the air of excellence that drives a young man to newer heights of achievement. Or it could be the putrid air of greed that could infect him and snuff a career out before it has had time to blossom.

In the Pakistan dressing room, and by extension in the society that it always reflects, I do not know if the air they breathe is fresh from the meadows of their land or their majestic mountains. It is easy, and dangerous, to pass judgement from a distance, but surely there must be a clue in the number of gifted individuals who wither away. But one thing is clear. Amir is not just a young cricketer but a young man symbolising tomorrow in Pakistan and that is why cricket lovers there should be disappointed. As they should have been with the antics of another astonishingly gifted young man, Umar Akmal, in Australia when his brother was left out.

If there is a brotherly hand on their shoulder, encouraging but firm, pointing out the rewards of a great career, would young cricketers think of performing petty crimes for petty rewards? Or is it that the hand on their shoulders isn't brotherly but villainous, goading them to fill their coffers with whatever comes their way? The second seems the more likely and if that is indeed the case, the Pakistan Cricket Board has picked the wrong people and in doing so let down the cricket lovers who seek their identity from the way their national team plays. Across the cricket world, the Pakistan board has little respect, and it is not difficult to imagine that the decay would begin there.

There is a danger for us in India too. It is easy to sound superior and sneer at our neighbours, to appear holier than thou and take the moral high ground. India faces a threat that is, if anything, greater than the one that seems to have engulfed young men in Pakistan.

India's new generation of cricketers is not just wealthy beyond imagination, they seem to have acquired it without a lot to show for it. I do not know if these young men are looking 10 years into the future, acquiring a work ethic that their solidly brought-up seniors possessed. They seem satiated, two years at the top seems to drain them; the BMW seems more alluring than the sustained effort of a 10-year career. For those that don't want a place in history, the low-hanging fruit can come from many sources. Make no mistake, Indian cricket is under threat and it cannot help that its guardians spend more time bickering over each other's excesses.

The News Of The World video suggests how easily a script can be written when the actors are weak and willing. This is the time to be strong and unforgiving and it must come from the ICC, for the PCB doesn't seem to have the stature to enforce anything. And the PCB can do better than suggest to the huge army of passionate Pakistan supporters that there is a conspiracy.

In India too we indulge in it from time to time, when a referee hands an adverse report or someone bowls a no-ball in a moment of poor judgement. Teams that win don't need to be martyrs and that is a lesson for all of us on the subcontinent. And to my friends in Pakistan I will say "show these theories the door", for the world neither has the time, nor does it benefit from, conspiring against them.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here