Tanya's Take

Oh for a spot of fixing

Some bowlers are accused of involvement in irregularities; for others there's no such excuse. And who knew bookies watched county cricket?

Tanya Aldred
Tanya Aldred
Steve Harmison's first ball heads for second slip, Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, November 23, 2006

Harmison's extravagantly awful first ball in the 2006-07 Ashes  •  Getty Images

It was supposed to be hard for county cricket to gain attention this spring. The season was starting while there was still snow on the Pennines, while KP was being left on the bench in the IPL and slap in the middle of the closest election campaign for over a decade. But underestimate cricketers at your peril.
Influenced by the commercial nous of the IPL, occasional appearances in Hello magazine and mixed with a light freckling on Twitter, they are now well-versed in the art of self-promotion. Who needs a light-show on the side of Battersea power station or an art-deco-style election manifesto? Just invest a little time and effort in some match-fixing allegations. You've got a guaranteed back page on your hands.
And the county to win over the news agenda in these difficult times? Essex, of course, who had (unproven) match-fixing allegations thrown at them way back in 1994, when a former player accused them of having lost a Sunday league match against Lancashire in return for a win in the County Championship in 1991.
This time it is a Pro-40 game against Durham last September. A here-today gone-tomorrow sort of match, which should result in a here-today gone-tomorrow sort of career at Chelmsford for Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria should any of the allegations, thought to be concerning spot-fixing, be proven.
Where football has John Terry's (of insalubrious bed-hopping antics fame) phone tapped, cricket has Westfield's phone confiscated by Essex police, while Kaneria remains in Pakistan, protesting his innocence. You choose your sport and you make your moral choice.
There is a silver lining for Westfield, that Essex police didn't immediately put his two no-balls and four wides down to plain incompetence. No such luck for some other unlucky souls. Think Steve Harmison, who bowled seven consecutive wides at Lilac Hill during the 2002-03 Ashes tour and whose opening ball of the 2006-07 series went straight into the hands of Andrew Flintoff at second slip.
Or Gavin Hamilton, who never improved on his one cap for England after developing the yips. Or poor, poor Scott Boswell, who bowled the never-ending over from hell during the 2001 C&G Trophy final at Lord's.
In front of a packed and vocal crowd, Boswell's over lasted 14 deliveries - six of the first eight balls were wides. Big, round drops of sweat dripped down his face, he lost his run-up, his attempts to go round the wicket ended in yet more humiliation, his team-mates ignored him, and the crowd bayed for his blood. What he'd have done for some allegations of spot-fixing.
It did come as a surprise that county cricket is beamed to the subcontinent and that Indian bookmakers watch it live. Can it really be true? Do they sit on plastic bucket seats, wearing cotton floppy hats, eating egg-and-cress sandwiches lovingly wrapped in tin-foil, with a flask of tea and possibly a pint of best bitter by their sides? Do they score every ball? Do they applaud fifty partnerships and best bowling performances? Do they daydream between overs and wonder how many more minutes it will be before that menacing smoky cloud blocks out the sun? Crisis what crisis? Match-fixing, smatch-fixing. It turns out county cricket has more viewers than it ever dreamed of.

Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian