Wednesday, 1 September 2010

As Tears Go By

It is the evening of the day

I sit and watch the children play

Smiling faces I can see

But not for me

I sit and watch as tears go by

- From ‘As Tears Go by’ by the Rolling Stones

The lines above could just as well have been sung by an erstwhile cricket fan, turned off by the game he once loved, but who cannot tear himself away from it completely.

It is a strange thing being a cricket fan. You grow up hero-worshipping players and end up worshipping the game itself. A perfectly pitched outswinger is a thing of beauty whether bowled by an Aamer, an Anderson, a Steyn or a Zaheer.

And nothing thrills you more than the sight of a well-contested Test match, with its ebbs and flows, battles-within-battles, twists and turns. Consequently nothing kills the fan inside more than the knowledge that the contest was not a contest at all. That every unexpected turn the match had was taken by players following road-signs planted by a bookie.

What is the crux here is not that it was 'just three no-balls'. It was not. The three no-balls must be examined in their proper context. The reason they were not just three no-balls was because they were not used as a spot-fix. They were used by a bookie to demonstrate to a potential gambler the level of control he could exercise on the team. In fact, no money was bet on the three no-balls. The cash paid to Mazhar Majeed was simply so that he would demonstrate beyond room for doubt, that in subsequent transactions he could arrange matters to his (and his clients') liking.

We have not yet entered the realm of match-fixing, but spot-fixing strikes just as deep. A cricket match is a contract between the player and the fan, where the fan promises his time, money and more importantly invests his emotion. In return the player promises to give a 100 percent throughout the duration of the match. For every ball and every minute.

When that contract is broken, there is nothing left for the fan, but the shattered remains of the emotions he had invested in following the fortunes of eleven men. It is not just Pakistan fans who are hurt. The knowledge that corruption's tentacles could reach out and strangle the most promising young fast bowler the game has seen in a while, has cut across regions and countries and united the cricket fan in his grief.

And it is sad beyond belief that we may never get to see Mohammad Aamer bowl again. It is true that he is still a teenager and that he was in all probability a pawn and not the prime mover, but overwhelming evidence is there to suggest that he fixed a spot in the match. It is also possible that he had no other choice. Stories abound about how the underworld controls aspects of cricket, and threatens players' families with dire consequences if they fail to obey its diktats. But by the same token, the only way to stem the underworld influence would be to take harsh action so that match or spot fixing becomes a much less lucrative business than it currently is.

Cricket's greatest challenge now is to bring faith back to the fans. We survived Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin in 2000, but it took a heavy toll. And though life bans were handed out, the inquiry then had still felt a tad incomplete. Cronje had admitted to receiving USD 10,000 to 15,000 - and this wasn't to fix a spot, it was to throw a match. Even then the amounts seemed low, but in the light of 150,000 pounds being offered just to bowl a no-ball, it seems ridiculously low.

In spite of that, the cricket fan came back to the game, and that is more a credit to the fan's relationship with the game than to the administration cricket has.

That administration has serious questions to answer. What was the much feted Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) of the ICC doing? When it has been clearly established that freely inter-mingling with third-party contacts has been the easiest way to introduce players to dubious elements, why has there been no policy in place to regulate who can represent a player and who cannot? Mazhar, of course, was an 'agent' of several Pakistan players. If clear-cut rules and accreditation processes were in place, if background checks were done, would he have managed to mingle so easily with so many members of the team? What of tournaments like the IPL or the Champions League T20, which see a massive amount of cash flow freely. Will the ICC continue to hide behind the 'it's a domestic event of the BCCI' line?

Fans who are hurting, who feel disillusioned and cheated will want the answers to these questions, because they are wondering which of their cherished memories is about to get tainted. Which victory that their team achieved against the odds was achieved because the other side was not trying hard enough? Which spell of bowling that left them mesmerized was due to batsmen who had pre-determined not to score? Which great knock was made great not because of adversity, but because obstacles were eased?

Even through their hurt though, they might want to spare a thought for Mohammad Aamer. Salman Butt is a seasoned pro, Mohammad Asif has courted enough controversies, and Kamran Akmal is... well Kamran Akmal. But Aamer is a young man first and an exceptional talent second. If he was manipulated or coerced, then a road to rehabilitation could exist for him. If he was not, and acted of his own free will, then I am afraid there should be no second chances for him, however wickedly he can swing the ball. Because then, he would have broken the sacred contract between player and fan, and from that there is no redemption - at least, not on a cricket field. His will be amongst the most poignant cases of what-could-have-been, if that is true.

And the fan will not find it as easy to forgive him either. I should know. I once considered Mohammad Azharuddin to be amongst the greatest artists I had ever seen, but it's been a decade and I have still not forgiven him, and probably never shall.

Once again, the Rolling Stones said it best:

My riches can’t buy everything

I want to hear the children sing

All I hear is the sound

Of rain falling on the ground

I sit and watch as tears go by.

This article has been published on CricBuzz.
Photos courtesy CricBuzz.


ravichandran said...

The strategy used by the bookie is much like what the LTTE or the Maoists do. Infiltrate the mind-fucked minds of the hungry, angry bunch of people who can be tossed around and brain washed with the most minimal of words!!!! Such I believe is their state of mind. I pity them.
But such acts will definitely not stop me from loving the game, cuz if I have grown to love the game, then malicious acts like these by rather unknown people will not tarnish my love for the game.

seekingutopia said...
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adeel said...

that is the good post which you have shared with us and thanks for some good posting ....

Kamran Akmal