Monday, August 30, 2010

The Lord's Test

I was looking forward to writing a blog about how fantastic Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad were in England's first (and in the end only) innings. How they built a partnership that smashed one record after another. How Stuart Broad hit his first ever century (Test or first-class) and looked likely to get a double until Ajmal used the UDRS correctly. How Trott was at the crease for effectively a day and half and how he came so close to scoring two double hundreds at Lord's. But no. All this is now over-shadowed by the allegations surfacing against Asif, Amir and Butt.

England looked shell-shocked taking to the field at 11. The Pakistan dressing room doors had been shut until 11, with only a few players venturing onto the balcony. The two not out batsmen were greeted with a ripple of applause. When Azhar Ali's wicket fell, it brought to the crease Kamran Akmal, who was also named in the News of the World's report. How must his brother have felt at the other end? It's not the first time Kamran Akmal has been allegedly involved in some kind of 'fix'. The Sydney Test earlier this year saw a suspicious amount of simple catches dropped and routine run outs missed.

When he got out to Anderson for 1, it brought to the crease 18 year old Amir. I've been singing his praises. He mauled the England middle order on Friday and got on the Honour's Board at Lord's. There was a smattering of boos for him, but not much applause. He was quickly bowled by Swann, whose celebrations were quite muted compared to the previous day. When the other accused party in Asif came to the crease, Lord's fell silent. There were a couple of boos, but from the member's pavilion, there was nothing.

My first reaction to this news was of shock and anger. After Broad and Trott had worked so hard to get England into a commanding position, the allegations surfaced and seemed to taint their hard work. I felt angry towards the match fixers, the Pakistan team, even the News of the World. Match fixers were putting the sport that I and many millions around the world love on the front pages for the wrong reasons. They ruin others enjoyment, break the law and have now dared to attack the most sacred of cricket matches, the Lord's Test. 

The more I looked at it though, the shock and anger subsided and was replaced with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and disappointment. At the moment, Pakistan is in the grips of awful flooding and the entire country is facing a humanitarian disaster. The political state of the country and the attack on the umpires and Sri Lankan cricket team mean that Pakistan cannot hold matches in their own country, hence the Pakistan-Australia
(how must the MCC feel after sponsoring that?)
series being played here. The Pakistan team also has some heartbreaking stories in it. The back-up wicketkeeper, Zulqarnain Haider lost his mother when he was 12 and when he made his Test debut donated half his match fee to a hospital in Pakistan.

After the Oval Test, Pakistan were on a high. They had England 102-7 and were then batted out of the game by two sublime innings. On Sunday morning, only the injured players were sat out on the Lord's balcony, looking glumly on as their fit counterparts were talked to by the team director. If proven guilty, Amir's career will effectively be over. And if it is, what an absolute waste. The kid clearly has a lot of talent. He was playing for Pakistan Under-19s when he was 15. Now he could face a life ban. If you were born in a slum to extreme poverty and a man came up to you and offered you £50000 for bowling a no-ball at a stated time, would you turn it down? You would hope that the pride of playing for your country would cause you to do so. But the other bowler, Asif, is so used to controversy that the fact he's still playing is unbelievable. He has battled drugs and his own team mates and now he must battle these allegations. Salman Butt replaced arguably the most controversial and maverick player in world cricket, Shahid Afridi, as captain. And now he's been dragged into these allegations too. When asked if he should resign, he answered, "Why?" But should the allegations be true, then he'll probably be banned too. He's only 25 and his career may well be over as well. 

When it was announced back in April that two Essex players were being questioned by Essex police on the charges of spot-fixing the televised Pro40 up at Durham in September last year, I was absolutely gutted. When it surfaced that Danish Kaneria was involved, I was even more disappointed. I'm disappointed now as well. I really admired Mohammad Amir. He was the youngest player to reach 50 wickets and get on the Lord's Honours board and he has so much to give. But the evidence is not looking good for him or Asif, as those no-balls were not just over, they were massive. Had they not been guilty, surely they would have protested their innocence, like they did in 2006?

This one will rumble on for a while and should Pakistan play the ODI series, the reaction they get will probably be heated. But since Kaneria is still playing for Essex, despite being on police bail, will the PCB stop Amir, Asif and Butt playing in the ODI series? Looking at its track record, I would expect them to play, which is why I think the ICC need to step in and do the discplining here. The PCB banned Mo Yousuf and Younis Khan, then unbanned them a couple of months later on appeal.

Sadly, the cricket world will remain in a sombre mood for a while yet.

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