Dire times for world cricket

2010-11-11 11:09
Sport24 columnist Craig Matthews (File)
Craig Matthews

I am not sure that in all my years involved in the sport, I have witnessed as much happening in the world of cricket as is the case at the start of this World Cup season.

From accusations of spot-fixing in the Lord’s Test match between England and Pakistan, to questions around the financial benefits paid to Cricket South Africa officials involved in the organization of the IPL, to the continued sustainability of the IPL, and the launches of two books by huge characters in the recent history of South African cricket … there has been plenty of news for the journalists.

Furthermore South Africa have kicked off their season which has brought on the usual debate over whether they can finally win a World Cup and now, a 24-year-old Pakistani cricketer retiring over threats  he says he received from bookmakers regarding matches he played in. An Ashes series is also around the corner: no-one can say that the cricket world is boring!

Of all the issues mentioned above, I really believe that the match-fixing accusations of the Lord’s Test and the retirement of Zulqarnain Haider, the young Pakistan wicketkeeper, are by far the most important for the future of the game, even though stories of sexual orgies will capture most of the headlines.

I genuinely fear for the future of the game which has offered me and so many others so much. Nobody needs reminding of the Hansie Cronje affair a full 10 years ago and the subsequent fallout which affected the game so severely.

Although one could never use the lack of players’ earnings from cricket to justify spot-betting and match-fixing, one would have imagined that the huge increase in player earnings recently would have put  paid to matches being fixed. In other words, with players earning vast sums, it becomes increasingly difficult for match-fixers to persuade players to partner with them in their underhanded ways.

However, it seems that the criminal element which has infiltrated the game of cricket has found enough soft targets to continue to manipulate results and situations within games.

Mickey Arthur, in his soon-to-be-released book, questioned a result of an ODI between SA and Pakistan in 2007 which has earned a very strong legal rebuke from the Pakistan cricket authorities. I remember watching that particular match and, while I cannot be certain, anybody who has a degree of understanding of the game would have questioned the result.

It was not that Pakistan lost from a winning position, but rather how they lost. Needing no more than 40 at about four runs per over, a good few of their last six wickets were lost playing big shots! It made no sense and I had exactly the same feeling as the ex-SA coach.

Then we heard of the accusations leveled against the Pakistan Test players after a sting operation exposed an agent representing the players involved in spot-betting the delivery of no-balls during the Lord’s Test match this year.

Again, it wasn’t the fact that the accused bowlers bowled no-balls at designated times of the match – it was how they went about it.

Some bowlers are always tight on the line when bowling (Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock were good examples) and occasionally overstepped when they bowled an effort ball.

They were never 30cm over! An international bowler is fully aware when they are over the line by that much. I have no doubt that that Messrs Amir and Asif knew exactly what they were doing. That, combined with the timing of the bowling of no-balls, leaves me in no doubt that something underhanded was going on.

The sudden retirement of Haider is, in some ways, the most crucial. If the stories of the goings-on in Pakistan provincial cricket are correct, the International Cricket Council has got much bigger problems than we think.

Supposedly, it is claimed by Haider, in a match between two List-A sides in Pakistan, one of the teams needed to win with a vastly improved run rate in order to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition. The team needing to win, batting second, scored the required 123 in 6.1 overs!

Salman Butt, one of the players suspended recently, pending investigation into the no-ball debacle, scored 92 not out off 25 balls! Added to this, Haider was replaced as captain of the losing team shortly before the match.

I am often asked whether there is still match-fixing and manipulation in international cricket, and I always said that the increased earnings of the players had put paid to the practice. Very sadly, I am not sure any more …

Craig Matthews played 18 Tests and 56 one-day internationals as a seam bowler for South Africa between 1991 and 1997, and until recently served as a national selector.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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