In the case involving three Pakistani cricketers, Justice (Sir) Jeremy Lionel Cooke said at the sentencing, “The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all”. In a few words the honorable Justice has captured the anguish of thinking cricket lovers around the world. “What was once a game, but is now a business…”. The noble game of cricket is at a critical juncture and context is important.
How did cricket become a business? Nowhere in the world is cricket as popular as in India. Cricketers are the new Gods in a country that has no dearth of Gods. A cricket match draws tens of millions of passionate TV followers. Sponsor money has poured into the game over the last 15 years and sponsor interest is now paramount. Commerce has trumped cricket in India and as the game has grown corruption has followed.
Why are the Indians silent? Retired Indian cricketers have been notably silent on cricket’s latest crisis. Corruption involving Indian cricket is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. Former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele however has been quick to say that there is no match fixing in Indian cricket. He will find it hard to convince anyone.
Cricket is a microcosm of society. In the sub-continent nothing can be done without greasing palms; money is revered and anything done to obtain it is fair game. One could argue that it is hypocritical to blame poor Pakistani fast bowlers for making a few pounds on the side when everyone in the larger society is on the take. Imran Khan has suggested as much in his comments on the sentencing, taking broad swipes at his country’s cricket establishment and President Zardari.
Is it a small minority of players? The problem is rampant, if ex players like Ian Botham and Michael Vaughan are to be believed. There is a related view that the problem is confined to the sub-continent. This is poppycock. Australian greats Mark Waugh and Shane Warne were fined by the Australian Cricket Board for supplying match related information to an Indian bookie during Australia’s 1994 tour of Sri Lanka. The scandal was subsequently hushed up.
The legendary cricket writer Neville Cardus once observed, “We remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination”. What will generations to come remember of the glorious game of cricket? Shame and scandal and prison sentences? I hope not. I believe in the idea of redemption. In the not too distant future, in a match at Lords between England and Pakistan, England’s scorecard at lunch on day one will read 79 for 5 or something like that. Pakistan’s destroyer in chief? A young fast bowler by the name of Mohammad Amir.