Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Monday, 30 August 2010

A spot of bother

For a few weeks over the winter I spent many a night and an early morning listening to live cricket coverage from New Zealand. The opponents were Pakistan and I was well rewarded as two of Test crickets lesser sides played out a thrilling three match series.

Night after night I risked infecting my computer with thousands of unheard of viruses as I scoured illegal websites promising live uninterrupted TV coverage. When they proved unobtainable I listened to live ball-by-ball coverage on NZ local radio. God knows what Fe thought I was up to.

In a memorable three week period I delighted in 19 year old Umar Akmal's century on debut, marvelled as 17 year old Mohammed Amir's inswinging yorker ended Tim McIntosh's innings with the first ball of the first match, punched the air at Iain O'Brien's magical farewell in Wellington and wondered what could have been throughout Shane Bond's match winning final flourish in Dunedin.

Fast forward to last Saturday when I once again chose to spend my time off doing what I love, watching cricket. Apart from the obvious there aren't many things in my life that I guarantee will lead to a zen-like experience from the moment my eyes open in a morning. The dreamy promise of a drawn out day in the sun stretches out ahead promising relaxation, stimulation and conversation.

And so, through the generosity of a double-booked workmate I spent a traditional English summer's day alongside my friend, Sinan who enjoyed his Lord's experience for the first time. After a frenetic day's play I walked back to St.John's Wood station slightly drunk on life and slightly more so on alcohol and texted the man whose cluttered calendar had allowed for such an enjoyable and relaxing time.

....."My lord's experience has consisted of 17 wickets, a world record 8th wicket stand, a 88th minute Fulham equaliser, a brass band, a lovely rainbow & even a £250 group bet win on the horses thanks to a mick quinn tip. Many thanks for the tickets. I'm sorry you don't have much cricket to look forward to tomorrow'.....

And then I got home and found out it had all been a lie. And the re-evaluation of my day, my summer, my affections towards several members of a young Pakistani side, of my past & present and ultimately my love of the game began. Two days on and it's still being questioned.

Rightly or wrongly Pakistani cricket has been synonymous with cheating ever since the days of Waqar & Wasim reverse swinging their way to success back in the 90's. As someone whose fondest county cricket memories are of Younis & his 100mph yorkers shattering wickets & toes for Surrey it's been a continual source of personal frustration to hear those who need no invitation to slam cricket dole out the usual mix of hackneyed and tired cliches to dismiss any result involving Pakistan over the years. For when they win "they cheated; lose and they threw it away." It’s a mantra that is set to stay.

In some ways it’s surprising that allegations of spot-fixing and possible match arranging cause such a thing. Two years ago I shared a taxi with an England legend who told of a Pakistani team mate forced to underperform in a ODI against India. He was threatened by his captain that he would never play for Pakistan again if he didn't comply. So, against his better instincts, he did just that. At the end of the tour he was presented with a bundle of notes. What he did with them is unclear. But my cab companion told me that the hatred his former colleague carried with him of his national captain remained to this day.

And it's not just those close to the action or the Pakistani supporters who have more reason than most to feel thoroughly disenchanted sick to the stomach. It affects so many people in so many ways.

In one foul swoop one of the things I enjoy the most in life had been taken from me. The morning after the story broke I travelled to work in much the same way that I always do stopping to pick up a coffee and a paper before boarding the train at Clapham Junction for the 12 minute journey to Chiswick.

But here things changed for while normally I would have spread open the sports pages at the cricket section and read through the various opinion pieces and accounts of the previous days play. This time I looked at it and thought 'what's the point?' What is the point of reading an account of a day’s play that had been decided upon?

For pitch inspection now read introspection. Where Vic Marks heralded the partnership between Stuart Broad & Jonathan Trott now I question whether it could possibly be a coincidence that England put on the largest 8th wicket stand in the history of the game in a match involving a team that might not actually want to win?

Instead of reading Mike Brearley's comments on the moment Mohammed Amir went off the field due to injury as being the natural turning point in the game it's understandable the question should now be whether in fact he was injured at all?

And why when he was to return moments later did he sit out 15 overs play despite having taken six of the seven wickets to have fallen? Is the fact that he then went wicketless for the remainder of the innings also adown to the honest vagaries of the game? And there’s more. Should England be praised for one of the biggest & quickest turnarounds in world cricket or Pakistan damned?

And as the mind really starts to wander down dark corridors of uncertainty that really shouldn't be explored, will we ever know everything that happened in that West Indian hotel room the night Bob Woolmer was found dead just 24 hours after Pakistan had 'remarkably' lost in the World Cup to Ireland?

These are the kinds of questions that I have found myself asking since I heard of the revelations. And the feeling is mutual for it's not just me asking these questions. In Australia those players & spectators who basked in their sides 'remarkable' comeback in Sydney at the start of the year will be asking themselves whether the Pakistani's really did make $1.4 million from chucking the match. That truly is remarkable.

So where now for me and the millions of others who now doubt the sport they have grown up watching? How you rebuild the faith and restore it to those who devote their time and energy to following cricket is unclear. For now when I glance up and see cricket on the TV screens it fills me with sadness and anger. It makes me think of betrayal and greed. Nobody wants to wake up and feel that ahead of a day at the cricket. There's nothing zen-like about that.

"The bond between the fan and the sports hero is among the purest in the world. It is also among the most sacrosanct…..Sportspersons can sometimes be forgiven for taking adulation for granted, but they must never test, much less abuse, faith. Once shaken, faith is the hardest to restore. - Cricinfo Editor Sambit Bal

Last week a new cricket tour set for February was announced. Pakistan will return to New Zealand and take part in a two Test series. At the time I was disappointed it wasn’t longer. Now I wonder whether anyone will be watching. For after the events of the last weekend it remains to be seen whether people like me the world over will ever bother to wait up and watch cricket involving Pakistan ever again.

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