Cricket – The Shame Game
August 31, 2010

In recent years Pakistan cricket has fluctuated from the sublime (winning the World Cup in 1992) to the ridiculous, never better illustrated than in the final Test of the current series with England which concluded yesterday.

Having reduced England’s first innings to 102-7 they somehow contrived to lose the match by an innings and 225 runs, the worst Test defeat in their cricketing history!  

The great shame is that in the end no one really cared about the result and some outstanding individual performances, from players on both sides, were overshadowed by a News of the World exclusive which seemingly provided incontrovertible evidence of spot fixing involving three named Pakistan players.

Pakistan cricket has been shamed by revelations that captain Salman Butt, and pace bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, were part of an alleged betting scam that has prompted an immediate police investigation.    

Despite supposedly delivering a deliberate no-ball to order (below) 18-year-old Mohammad Amir devastated England’s middle order by removing Peterson, Collingwood and Morgan, all for ducks, within the space of nine balls. He subsequently finished with 6 for 84 and became the youngest ever bowler to feature on the Lords Honours Board.

It is such a shame that this talented young bowler (left) may, if he is found guilty, suffer a life ban from world cricket, when he apparently had such a bright future ahead of him. He deserved greater protection against those who prey on vulnerable young players and lure them into the murky world of illegal betting.

It will also be a great shame if the superb world record-breaking eighth wicket stand of 332 by England’s Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad (right) has its validity questioned because of the controversy surrounding the circumstances in which it was made.

Cricket has an almost religious status in Pakistan and it unifies the nation. Over the years a roll call of talented players such as Hanif Mohammad, Imran Khan (now a popular political figure)  , Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram (left), Waqar Younis, Inzamam Ul Haq and Mohammed Yousuf has afforded Pakistan recognition on the international sporting stage and been a source of national pride for many who suffer lives of great deprivation and hardship.

Unfortunately, however, scandal and tragedy are seemingly never far away from Pakistan cricket, be it forfeiting the Oval Test in 2006, following ball tampering allegations (right), the tragic death of coach Bob Woolmer in the Caribbean during the 2007 World Cup or the bloody terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, in Lahore, eighteen months ago.

As a result of the latter the Pakistan team (through no fault of their own) were condemned to become cricketing nomads, playing matches wherever they could find a country willing to accommodate them. This year the venues for their ‘home series’ against Australia were provided by England prior to their scheduled away series over here.             

Captain, Salman Butt responded to the recent devastating floods in Pakistan by promising that his  team, through their performances, would endeavour to raise the spirits of those suffering back home.

It would be unforgivably shameful if these allegations of corruption are substantiated and lead to the exclusion from international cricket of the people’s beloved national team at a time when life for so many is at such a low ebb.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Aliens at ‘eadingley!
July 23, 2010

It were right cold at ‘eadingley yesterday!

Beneath leaden skies and sheltering from a biting wind full of Yorkshire grit, a sparse crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. It was a day for a flat cap, muffler and a thermos of piping hot cream of tomato soup.

The aliens clattered down the steps of the ufo that has alighted amidst the old north stand striking a discordant note that reverberates around this historic Leeds sporting venue. It carries the name, the Carnegie Pavilion!

The scene might have been from a Spielberg movie. It was not difficult to imagine little green men emerging from this equally green monstrosity, but instead it was the alien cricketers of Pakistan and Australia who had been condemned to play this second test, of a two match series, in some distant corner of England’s green and pleasant land.     

The local Asians and Australians have not responded in the numbers expected when Headingley was selected to stage this match. The occasional crescent and star twinkled against a fluttering green background but there were precious few men from down under sporting the gold and green.

Those Yorkshire members present had come largely out of curiosity and the opportunity to watch some international cricket, devoid of the emotional commitment involved when England play. Of course they were not averse to rooting for Pakistan, based on the anybody but the Aussies principle, and to offering captain Ricky Ponting the benefit of their combined wisdom and wit!

However, late in the day RP had the last laugh, well more a grim smile of determination really. His Australian team, although still behind in the game, had rallied from their catastrophic first day dismissal for 88 restricting Pakistan’s first innings lead to only 170, when it should have been much more, and by the end of play had all but eliminated the deficit for the loss of only two wickets.

On the way Ponting had survived a first ball appeal for lbw, that looked plumb to every one in the ground but umpire Rudi Koertzen, and made the most of this good fortune to register the top score to date, a determined 61 not out. Along the way, when on 40, he passed a significant personal milestone of 12,000 test match career runs which puts him 2nd in the all time list of scorers.

In recent years Ponting has often been subject to English boos and jeers when walking out to be bat (not cricket in my opinion) but thankfully the Yorkshire faithful gave him the tremendous ovation his achievement deserves.

It was a day of records in the cricketing world. Thousands of miles away in Galle, a wonderful cricket setting I once visited when holidaying in Sri Lanka and now thankfully restored following the tsunami of 2004, Muttiah Muralitheran, wizard of spin, claimed his 800th test wicket.

It was achieved in dramatic style, Muri in his last match before retiring from test cricket, taking the final Indian wicket to win the match for Sri Lanaka and end his career on a land mark figure which is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Meanwhile, nearer to home, Stuart Broad bowled my team, Notts, to an emphatic victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston. He finished with a career best 8-52 in what was a rare appearance for the county due to his central contract with England.

This result leaves Notts nicely poised to take the lead in the county championship race and they still have a game in hand on current leaders Yorkshire.

Nest Thursday Broad and, Notts team-mate, Graham Swann will be returning to England International duty in the First Test against Pakistan at their home ground, Trent Bridge. I hope to be there, weather permitting.

Now that is a ground with a proper pavilion!