The people at the top of cricket have a tough choice to make in response to the alleged betting scam rolling around cricket right now. First is hand out life bans to anyone involved and talk about putting the house in order. Or they can work at the root cause of mess and try to stop the situation from happening again
The first way is easy; the right way is far tougher.
If you are not aware, the short version of events is that three or four members of the Pakistan team touring England are under investigation for taking money to do certain things during a game. No one is accused of throwing a game, but it’s not far off.
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s priority seems to be to ensure that the rest of the tour goes ahead, but minus the players at the center of the betting scandal. Initially this looked like the right thing to do, but after giving it a little more thought I’ve changed my mind. It puts money ahead of principal, which considering the allegations seems somewhat appropriate.
On the field it is clear after the test series that England are the stronger of the two teams, take away Pakistan’s two best bowlers, wicket keeper and captain and there seems little point in playing the ten planned 20/20 and 50-over games. England will take them apart and it’s not a competition anymore.
In the longer term there is the issue of corruption in cricket. History shows that it’s been a big, ongoing problem within the sport, even if spot-betting is seen by many as less insidious than Hansie Cronje’s match fixing
As it always is, the root cause of the current problem money, or lack of it. The infrastructure of Pakistani top level cricket has always been questionable. Over the last couple of years after the terrorist attack against Sri Lanka in Lahore, every game played on the road and this has weakened the already poor organization even further.
The touring party are paid far less then their English, Indian and Australian counterparts. In this series it’s been suggested that the Pakistan players will have been earning perhaps 10% the amount of their rivals. Now someone comes along and gives you thousands to bowl a no ball, this is something that which will have little or no effect on the overall result, how difficult is it to say “yes”?
The long term challenge facing the International Cricket Council (ICC) is taking on the ongoing corruption in Pakistan cricket. This would be a long, tough road, but it’s either that or Pakistan stops playing at the highest level.
Then there is the question of what do you do with the players involved? A life ban seems extreme, especially in the case of the 18 year old Mohammad Amir who’s only been playing at this level for a year or so. His 6 wicket haul at Lords was deserved and he has the potential to be one of the superstars of this game. To see him banned for life would be a travesty.
I think the first step is take the players away from the problem, because the security situation does not allow Pakistan to play any games at home the team spends months at a time on the road.
The ICC has to reach into their coffers and put the game in Pakistan right. Have the top players play outside Pakistan, let them play the domestic game in England, India, Australia and so on. Give the players a chance to share in the money generated by the game in these countries.
Also the Pakistani team needs to be given a home for a few years untill they can start hosting series in Pakistan again. Dubai or the UAE seems the obvious candidates, they are states who have started using high profile sports to raise their profile in the world. Cricket may just fit into that.
The ICC will have to work to make this happen along with rebuilding the game inside Pakistan. It will take quite a leap of faith by the ICC, not to mention significant resources, but it’s only by tacking the problem at its source can it be put right. The source of this problem is the failure of the Pakistani domestic and international game.
The ICC can either keep Pakistan in the cricketing wilderness, or do the hard work to bring them back into the fold and give the players the stability to make living from the game.
I’ve spent time around professional sportsmen in the past, and the unfortunate truth is people who make living out of sport don’t take the “spirit of the game” view of sport. They tend to be far more mercenary and are generally more interested in making money during what may be a short and very tough career.
It is the journalists and the fans that add the narrative and romance that make great sport so special and meaningful. I’m as guilty of that as anyone; I do love sport and what it can mean to people, but at the same time for professionals it really is work.