Twit wit…

An occasional series starts here, now:

Dear ICC: Your move. Love, Supreme Court of India

Not to be a nag, ICC — I know there are more pressing matters for you to attend to just now — but still. I’m mildly curious about a couple of things. Like, so:

#Is it true that per your rules, the president of a national cricket body is the one who gets inducted into the ICC’s board of directors? If yes, could you let us know who the BCCI president is? None of us here in India seem to know — but you should, since you do have an individual occupying that seat on your board, no?

#On September 29, 2013, a BCCI meeting decided “by oral consensus” that N Srinivasan would be the BCCI representative on the ICC executive board. The board’s natural life-span ended in September 2014. So who is India’s representative on your executive board just now? How? Why?

#Clause 2.1 of your Code of Ethics (by the way, just this morning I read of your determination to be very strict on enforcing the code — I presume you meant it to include officials as well? — says “Directors shall not engage in any conduct that in any way denigrates the ICC or harms its public image.” Arising from which: The Supreme Court of India ruled today that N Srinivasan (I believe he is your chairman?) can not contest the much-delayed BCCI elections. Some niggling thing about “conflict of interest” appears to have pissed off our Supremes. So the question is: Do you think a director deemed by the court to be unfit to hold office of BCCI president, and further, one barred from contesting the upcoming election, should be on your executive board, let alone be your chairman? If yes, why? If not, what do you propose to do about it?

#Clause 4.11 (F) of your constitution says that the Executive Board can remove any director if, among other things, he indulges in any act that brings the Council into disrepute. Would you say that Srinivasan, by (a) Being at the receiving end of court strictures about egregious conflicts of interest; (b) Being told by the Supreme Court that his presence at the head of the BCCI is “nauseating”; (c) Being told that he cannot office as president due to conflict of interest, and is barred from contesting any future elections until and unless he clears himself of that conflict, has possibly brought disrepute to your council? If so, do you intend to review his position in your executive board, and at its helm? If not, could you let us know what will bring your esteemed council into disrepute?

#justasking #don’tmindme

Cogito, ergo sum confusion

Cogito, ergo sum, says Iain O’Brien in the latest issue of The Cricket Monthly. He thinks, therefore he is.

What he is thinking about is David Warner — who, Iain says, is not just a serial offender, but an escalating offender.

That’s a neat way of putting it. Shorn of polysyllables, what it means is: Warner’s behaviour is getting worse. He says:

I have seen the regularity of Warner drawing fire, the growing frequency and the level of these indiscretions, increasing since late last year. Is it wrong to try to find a reason for this? Is it wrong to possibly suggest that the tragic death of his good mate Phillip Hughes – Warner was on the field when Hughes was fatally hit – is having an unwanted affect on the decisions he makes, and contributing to his involvement in conflicts?

From that jumping off point, the writer transitions to the death of Philip Hughes on the field of play, and the possibility that Warner — who was at the other end when his mate died — suffers from PTSD.

Perhaps it is fair to say that Warner has had similar demons to deal with since the death of his very good friend. Perhaps it isn’t. It may be that it is still worth discussing. Maybe we can just rule out any form of PTSD and simply justify Warner’s actions saying, “He has always been like that”, and say they might also be a result of the laxity in efforts to curb certain forms of on-field behaviour. I get the feeling there’s a little more to his recent behaviour than can be explained by the flighty application of fines and limited consequences for his actions.

I read a lot of crime fiction, particularly the courtroom types. And when someone says “PTSD” I am all over him like a rash — I know PTSD like only readers of Shane Stevens and Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson and such can. Seems to me — my view is probably colored, even jaundiced, by too much of this stuff — that there is no case that comes to the courtrooms of America where the anatomy of some horrendous crime cannot be explained merely by whether it is right or wrong to rape and kill; it needs a battery of experts to speak with polysyllabic profundity to child abuse or adult trauma and its effects on the individual’s id.

It is all supposed to lead to a verdict of Not Guilty By Reason of <insert your favourite trauma here>.

Hold that thought, while you follow some of these narratives:

Australian coach Darren Lehmann says he knows there are lines drawn, but Australia is always going to push as close to the edge of acceptable behaviour as it thinks it can get away with:

“If the ICC decide it’s not in the spirit of the game or we cross the line, they’ll come down on us. We all know that. So we’ve got to make sure: we’re always going to teeter pretty close to it, that’s the way we play, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t cross it. David’s an aggressive character and we support that. It’s just making sure he does the right things on the ground, and he knows that more than most. We’ll work with him with that.”

Australia’s almost-was-captain Brad Haddin believes this is the “brand of cricket” Australia should be playing (Inset, James Anderson believes sledging “done right” can be “entertaining”. He doesn’t say for who.)

Haddin said Australia would not be changing the way they play and he said they always respected their opponents and the game.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting — famous, among other things, for a spirited discussion with umpire Aleem Dar during the 2010 Ashes series — believes the problem is not with what happens on the field, but with how it all looks when magnified by the TV cameras.

Darren Lehmann has said publicly that David is an aggressive character, and the Australian public love the way he bats, which goes hand in hand with the sort of confrontational approach he sometimes takes in the field. What David needs be aware of is how animated that can look through the lens of a television camera.

When I was captain I often had to control how things looked when I was talking to opponents or umpires. The incidents that got me into trouble often had little to do with what I was saying but how it could appear when I started moving my hands around, pointing fingers or taking on an assertive posture. That would leave me open to different interpretations from people about what might have been going on, and invariably cause the match referee to have a word. I also had a few hearings in my time.

That has been true of this episode for David, where his 50% match fee fine has come about largely because of how it played on television and came across to fans around the world. Whether misplaced or not, Australian anger that a run was taken after the possible deflection of a return to Brad Haddin was genuine. I could count a few instances where I’ve seen opposition teams take another run when the ball deflected in this way. As minor as it sounds, that convention is about as well understood as that of not running out a non-striker backing up without a warning. So I can understand some anger in the belief it had not been followed.

That is a very good argument to do away with not mayhem, but with the cameras that might be in a position to record that mayhem and amplify it via YouTube and other social megaphones. “The problem is not that the cops strangled the black guy, the issue is really how it all looks when that irresponsible idiot with the cellphone camera…”

In those same courtroom novels I referred to, I’ve come across another phrase: enabling behaviour. Like, when someone does something that is clearly wrong, and the officials excuse it on specious grounds (“It is only a first offence… Level 2.1 (a) (ii)…)? Like, when people of stature and authority don’t call out an act for what it is — unacceptable — but obfuscate, justify, condone?

I’ve no quarrel with Iain’s cogitations. Merely, that I did some of my own — and I wonder if it is fair to say this: Excuses — even legitimate ones — may help us understand the nature of the offender. But they should have no bearing on the offence. Or the consequences.

BTW? Try searching for “David Warner sledging”. You might find a couple of instances if you look hard enough. And if you care to notice the dates, you might find that the odd example pre-dates any PTSD.

PS: Warner and Australia are merely the peg of this argument, not the sole targets. Bad behaviour is just that — no matter who the culprit is, or which team he belongs to. Oh, and to Anderson’s point about all this being “entertaining” — if the quality of your cricket was good enough, why would you need an item number?

Additional reading:

Martin Crowe wrote recently about the need for cricket to take bad behaviour seriously, and mooted the concept of red and yellow cards.

The sad part? Back in 2002, the same concept was briefly discussed by cricket’s lawmakers. And dropped. And I remember writing about the need for it, in 2003. Can’t seem to find the link, but I did find this discussion I was part of, where the theme was developed on. Here, read.

‘BCCI tried to bribe me’. Indeed?

“A particular South Indian lobby tried to bribe me to withdraw the case,” Verma told Mail Today on Wednesday. “It offered me many things, including money, but I did not buckle under any pressure and continued my fight for cleansing Indian cricket of corruption. They told me that I would benefit a lot if I withdrew the case. They also tried to bribe me in many other ways.”

The man making the allegation is Aditya Verma, secretary of the Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB), whose PIL led to the Bombay High Court declaring the BCCI-appointed two-member inquiry committee “illegal”.

When reading this, bear in mind that the CAB was de-recognized by the BCCI over allegations of corruption, and this is now the subject of a prolonged court battle.  Prima facie, that would suggest that Verma and his association have a vested interest in throwing mud at the BCCI.

However, without suggesting that the CAB is a well-run state body (which state association actually is?), the BCCI taking action against one of its members over corruption is risible, to say the least. We are, after all, talking of the same body that filed a police case against Jagmohan Dalmiya for misappropriation of over Rs 46 crore, then when it became expedient wrote off that amount, and today has (illegally) installed him as interim president. (Details documented here).

That — and many other instances of state associations being allowed to get away with murder — leads to the inference that the BCCI uses the carrot and stick policy as part of its standard operating procedure; that it has institutionalized the use of bribery and/or threats to get its way (Read). And this in turn suggests that Verma’s allegation cannot be totally dismissed as muck-throwing by a disgruntled official.

Here is Verma in his own words:

“A particular South Indian lobby tried to bribe me to withdraw the case,” Verma told Mail Today on Wednesday. “It offered me many things, including money, but I did not buckle under any pressure and continued my fight for cleansing Indian cricket of corruption. They told me that I would benefit a lot if I withdrew the case. They also tried to bribe me in many other ways.”

He, however, refused to divulge the names of the people who tried to bribe him to withdraw the case, saying the matter was sub-judice. Then, Verma said, the lobby tried to intimidate him by telling him he was putting the career of his young cricketer son in jeopardy by fighting against the BCCI.

“They asked me. Why are you playing with the future of the career of your cricketer son?”. However, Verma, whose son plays under-19 cricket, refused to give up his fight. “I have been fighting single-handedly against the BCCI for the legitimate rights of the Bihar cricket for the past three years,” he said. “I am not one to give in to any kind of pressure.” Verma said this was the first time when the BCCI had tasted defeat in a court case.

The allegation is in and off itself serious; it is of a piece with how the BCCI has operated in the past. And it is because the BCCI has been allowed to get away with each individual act of corruption, extortion and general malfeasance that it has become increasingly emboldened; why each successive act has been more egregious than the last.

It is time (most would argue that it is way past time) that a line was drawn in the sand — and the way to do that, here, is by naming the people involved, by bringing it out in the open, and by seeking official/judicial intervention.

Verma refuses to divulge the names by saying the matter is sub-judice, but that cat won’t jump — if it is, if this combination of bribe and threat is part of his official case, then he shouldn’t be talking about it at all. Doing a tease, then refusing to go the whole hog, does everyone — the game, the fans — a disservice; it airs an allegation but does not substantiate it. Which is why I hope Verma, who now flies the flag for probity and has set himself up as the crusader against corruption, now does a full Monty, either through the legal mechanism or in public.

Now is as good a time as any to let sunlight into a body that has traditionally operated in deep shadow. There have been numerous opportunities in the past, and the game has paid, continues to pay, a heavy price for missing them. At the risk of being sententious, I really hope this latest allegation doesn’t turn out to be yet another one day sensation that is forgotten by tomorrow.




Paradise Lost

And so I find myself in an emotional cauldron; in a sport I love, in a tournament whose cricket I genuinely believe in, but in an atmosphere, even if created by a few, tinged with moral decay and danger. I feel sadness and fear. I am angry very often, but from time to time expectation wells up within: that my sport might emerge stronger, that out of pain a better sport will evolve.

I am partly in denial; I want my sport to embody everything I have experienced within it: beauty, bravery and flair, everything that brings a smile. I want to be happy, I want to shout out that good vastly overwhelms bad. But another part of me is hoping that whatever has to tumble out does, that cricket finds its deepest caverns so those conspiring there can be exposed; that cricket feels so much pain that it will do what it takes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Neither emotion is viable, for I know cricket will continue to exist, like everything else, with the nicest and the bravest alongside the cowardly and the machiavellian.

In his latest think piece for Cricinfo, Harsha speaks of sadness, of fear and of anger — and all of these emotions are reflected in the minds of fans. SMSes from friends, Twitter posts I noticed in passing, blogs written by cricket fans, emails — they all speak of the same feelings.

To that list I have one entry to add: bereavement. The abiding sense of loss that is a direct consequence of being deprived of something dear to me.

Losing mom, then losing the last vestiges of faith in a game that has captivated me (and, for a time, even paid for my daily bread and butter) since childhood, all in the same week, is I guess just an exemplar of misfortunes not coming singly — but never mind that.

What I wonder now, amidst these ruins, is this: how do I watch a cricket match again?

Earlier, when a batsman of the highest caliber had a brain-fade and got out to a silly shot, I’d marvel at the impact of pressure on even the strongest and most skilled.

Earlier, when a bowler known to get bounce and turn bowled flat and short, I’d wonder why his muscle memory was breaking down, whether he had developed some form of twinge in shoulder or arm and was attempting to soldier on regardless.

Earlier, when towels were brandished on the field of play I wondered whether, unseen and unnoticed by us in front of our TV screens, dew had begun to play a part in proceedings, and if so how it would impact on the remaining course of play.

Earlier, when an umpire flubbed a simple LBW appeal I’d think, the guy is human, look at the demands on him — he has to be looking down, monitoring the landing of the bowler’s front foot and less than a second later, he had to have shifted his gaze to the other end and computed a dozen different parameters relating to where the ball landed and the line it held or did not and movement or lack thereof and bounce or lack thereof and batsman’s intent to play or not and… it is a miracle they get any call right, I’d think.

Now? What do I do now, when every action on the field of play makes me wonder?

Is that player adjusting his wrist band because it was getting sweat-soaked, or because oh god no…

That batsman who played a shot that would have provoked censure in schoolboy cricket — ‘What was he thinking?’ has now become ‘Who paid him how much to do that?’

That player who was promoted out of turn while far better batsmen waited in the hut? ‘Captain’s gamble’ has now become ‘bookie’s fix’.

That fast full ball down the leg side? I used to think that was the bowler second-guessing the batsman’s intent to charge him and adjusting accordingly. Now I think, uh oh, is that a means of ensuring that the target for runs delivered in that over is met?

That umpiring mistake? In my mind, ‘human error’ has been replaced by ‘human greed’.

Harsha speaks in his piece of the hope that this present mess will end in the eventual cleansing of cricket (a hope, incidentally, that has been expressed by him, and so many well-meaning commentators like him, any number of times these past 13 years — despite repeated manifestations of evidence to the contrary).

I agree with his premise that such a tragedy is opportunity in disguise; that it can, properly utilized, result in leaving the game healthier, cleaner than before.

Skim through this, however — what conclusion can you draw other than that the sport and its administrators have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity?

There are very, very few illusions that survive our childhood. In fact, there is just one — that sport is clean and pure and wholesome and good. Thanks to the greed of the few and the willful blindness of those who run this game, even that last illusion now lies shattered.

In a little under 48 hours I have to be at this holy place in Kerala, to consign the last vestiges of my mother to the elements. Seems to me that at the same time, I will also be ridding myself of the last remaining vestiges of my innocence; mourning the end of one of the very, very few things that were capable of giving me unalloyed joy.

Given time, I could forgive the administrators of this sport for all their sins of omission and commission. But this?

How do you forgive someone for taking from you the one thing that was clean, and good, and wholesome?

PS: Just how scary is it when Lalit Modi makes sense?

Isn’t Srinivasan’s conflict of interest (he is the BCCI president and owns Chennai Super Kings) hurting the IPL?

Of course! I’ve been saying that for years — and for years no one has listened. Now the penny is beginning to drop. I was wrongly accused of having an interest in franchises and wrongly castigated as a consequence. The board president’s ownership of Chennai is indisputable but for him, it doesn’t seem to matter. Of course it is hurting the IPL. It strikes at the very credibility of the tournament and the results are there for all to see. Strangely, everyone has just shrugged shoulders and let him get on with it.

Has Srinivasan succeeded in diluting the powers of the IPL commissioner?

It seems no one else has any direct power these days and it is as if no one can speak unless given permission. When this latest spot-fixing scandal was reported, the IPL commissioner did not say anything. The paying public, the people who fill the stadiums, deserve answers but the man who runs the specific tournament in question was nowhere to be seen. Now that might not be entirely down to him, I don’t know, but the lack of communication was terrifying. The problem was massive to start with but so much extra damage is done if the people directly responsible for the tournament don’t react.

And a very happy 2011 to all

So I made a New Year resolution, to blog every day (and to apologize for the prolonged absence late last year, during which many of you apparently came, repeatedly, looking for updates. Sorry — life happened).

On second thoughts… the resolution is to blog every working day.

Actually, second guessing the second thoughts, it is to blog every working day that I am actually at my desk.

Oh hell — let’s just say, to blog more regularly, and leave it at that.

Here, for now — with plans to migrate the blog to a Yahoo platform at the earliest opportunity. Details of that, as and when it happens.

Meanwhile, it’s great to start the year with a Test — a meaningful one against a quality opponent. Perfect kick off to the next 12 months which, besides distractions like the World Cup and the IPL, contains away tours of England and the West Indies.

Day one of the Newlands Test (kicking back and watching the play was the perfect start to the year; having to return to the work station today is not quite so perfect) was a bit of a curate’s egg — patchy excellence where sustained brilliance was called for.

MS winning a rare toss was the best way to start. Bowling first? I’m personally not convinced it was an attempt to give the Indian bowlers the best conditions — the decision seemed to be influenced, at least in part, by Dhoni’s desire to spare the batsmen the pain facing Steyn and Morkel on a seaming track in overcast conditions would entail. Hence my comment on Twitter at the time of the toss:

I hope, when MS opted to bowl, that he calculated the advantage of 2 hours good bowling conditions against chasing over 200 in 4th innings.

Nothing I saw in the day’s play caused a revision of that initial thought. Zak bowled with his usual competence, and got Smith out yet again to the ploy of moving the ball away consistently, each time drawing the batsman further across the stumps, before bringing one back in sharply to trap the Proteas captain in front. You’d have thought, given the number of times Smith has fallen to this trap, that he would have worked out an antidote by now — but no.

On a wicket without the bounce of Durban, and with just enough cloud cover and sub-surface moisture to help the bowlers move the ball in the air and off the wicket, the heartening bit was that all three Indian seamers hit the optimal fuller length. Not so heartening though was the fact that they seemed to have misplaced the edge they had found in the second Test — there was a pacifist quality to their bowling, and how much of it is the result of MS publicly reprimanding Sreesanth for kicking over the verbal traces is anyone’s guess.

There is no denying that the Kerala pacer tends to overdo things. This, after all, is the guy who explained his behavior by saying he was merely attempting to see “how far he could go” — apparently his motormouth tendencies are motivated by a spirit of scientific inquiry.

The Sreesanth story follows a predictable cycle: He makes it to the team. He is on his best behavior. He gets a few wickets. He loses his head. He behaves in execrable fashion. He gets a final warning — the latest of many such final warnings. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a pity, really, because the lad is a good talent, if he could be persuaded to focus on his already excellent skills.

All of that said, I am not sure MS should have taken his grouse to the public forum, and spoken to the media about his strictures to Sreesanth — that is a conversation that should have been confined to the dressing room, preferably in the presence of the coach, Zak, and some of the senior players. To publicly excoriate a player in that fashion was surprising — and unless I am misreading the signs, it appears to have cast a dampener on the ebullience of the entire bowling unit. Through the day, there were brief glimpses of quality from Zak, Sree and Ishant — but not the sustained intent, the aggression, that could have helped India utilize the toss to optimal effect. The bowling — and strangely, even the in-out field setting — was indicative more of a desire to contain, than to smash through — and at close, the unbeaten 68-run Prince-Kallis partnership, and the score of 232/4, meant South Africa had done far better than they had any right to expect after losing four top batsmen, including the prolific Amla and de Villiers, relatively cheap. (Keep in mind that the average first innings score in Newlands hovers around the 235-240 mark).

The most inexplicable aspect of the day’s play was the sustained use of Harbhajan as a defensive, ‘holding’, bowler. At no time did MS look to attack with his “star spinner”; the fields were routinely set to contain; the lines Harbhajan bowled reflected that desire, and the upshot was that neither could he break through, nor did he contain (his personal run rate of 3.03 is merely a fraction below the Proteas overall run rate of 3.13).

An ideal (from the Indian point of view) situation would have seen the Proteas end the day 5/6 wickets down, for just around 200 — absent such a result, the advantage of the toss is nullified. As matters stand, India has a brief window of opportunity when play resumes today — an hour, max, to knock over Kallis, Prince and Boucher and ensure that SA ends up with a sub-300 score. The trap for India now, though, is the choice of bowlers to take advantage of that first hour — the ball is 74 overs old, and if Dhoni lets two of his seamers lead the attack in the first hour, they will begin to tire by the time the new ball becomes due. If on the other hand he opts to bowl one seamer and Harbhajan in tandem, the likely result will be to allow Prince and Kallis to settle back in, and set themselves for a big partnership in conditions that, as the pitch dries further, will favor batting.

To borrow from the Ravi Shastri template for a moment — “the first session will be crucial”. For once, the cliche is true. See you back here at lunch, with a quick update.

And again — here’s to 2011; may it be the best year ever.

Falling out of love

Gleanings from a weekend spent reading corruption-related content on various newsmagazines and sites:

A beleaguered people seethed at the betrayal, at the battering of their hope, at their realisation that cricket, as every sport, can at best only be a metaphor for the nation playing it. Pakistan, today, is cricket’s graveyard, its players the hangmen of the game. But they have acquired such disrepute, such infamy, only because so many of Pakistan’s cherished values lie crushed, because its politics has become pathological.

People understood this instinctively and, for a change, reacted spontaneously, refusing to spin conspiracy theories. In Lahore, an angry mob pelted rotten tomatoes on donkeys named Asif, Aamer, Kamran (Akmal) and Salman. One of them said, “We are already facing so many problems…they took away our one source of joy.” One Wajahat commented on Facebook, “In 1999 you (the Pakistani cricket team) broke my heart. But I was 16, and I learnt to love you again. I fear I am too old to love you again.” A sarcastic SMS doing the rounds reads, “We, the flood-stricken people of Pakistan, salute the worthy members of our national cricket team for their daring move to collect huge donations for the flood victims, even through match-fixing.” Newspapers howled, TV channels bristled and commentators said cricket’s hangmen must be made to pay.

Outlook’s story underlines the essential tragedy of the latest developments: that the greed of the few irreparably harms the many. ‘I fear I am too old to love you again’ ranks, on the poignance scale, with ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe!’

The magazine also features Dawn correspondent Kamran Shafi on the need to root out the present administration and reformat the running of Pakistan cricket; what he says serves as a cautionary tale for an IPL, and an administration, obsessed with la dolce vita [And while on cautionary tales, here’s Rohit Mahajan, also in Outlook, on why India is not inoculated against this evil]:

There is only one way for Pakistan cricket to go, and that is to dismiss the whole shoot: PCB, team and all. Our players should be banned from playing any international cricket for five years during which time cricket academies should be set up at the district level which should train players and form two teams each. These teams should then play each other with the winners playing the winning teams from other districts. At the national level, matches could be held between provincial teams and from this pool of talent, a national side chosen.

The PCB’s secretariat (yes, they have a plush secretariat too, including executive dining and living facilities and accommodations that would shame a seven-star hotel) ought to be cut down to half its huge size and proper accounting procedures instituted. The royal style—fat salaries, first-class travel, five-star hotels, daily allowances that would put even a prince’s privy purse to shame—that the PCB bosses arrogate to themselves should be controlled and the money, thus wasted, spent on the cricket academies.

Within the fraternity of journalists covering cricket, a talking point for quite some time is the increasing power and pervasive influence of the agent, who in recent times has been known to go outside of the stated brief of managing the player-client’s finances, and intervene in cricketing aspects up to and including selection of players. Mahajan’s piece elaborates on that theme:

Insiders say that agents chasing players, and trying to build relationships with officials, is a serious problem. “This is rampant in domestic cricket,” says a source. “In Delhi, for instance, some officials are long-time betters and have links with bookies. In some states, selectors receive a cut from agents for selecting their players.” The source says that at the national level, agents have become less important due to a BCCI decision—paid selectors. “Earlier, agents used to be seen taking selectors to dinner etc, and it was believed they influenced selection,” he says. “Now at least in public they don’t hang out together.”

Agents and the access they have to the players, or the access they facilitate for others, could also cause problems. The ICC suggests no or limited access to players during matches, but agents and their friends are always with players. During the Asia Cup earlier this year, the Sri Lankan chief of security wrote to the acu that a woman had gained access to an Indian player’s room. “The situation was managed, but it’s a potentially hazardous, in which a woman could be used to lure a player towards wrongdoing,” says a source.

A senior BCCI official says it’s time there was some regulation of the agents: “There are some good ones, but one or two are known to be of dubious integrity, misleading players about deals, attempting to influence selection. It might be a good idea to register agents, like in football and nba, so that there could be a thorough check of their antecedents.”

And in his piece, Mike Marqusee tangentially underlines the reason behind the growing power of the agent:

One of the sad but striking parts of the News of the World recording shows the way the agent-cum-fixer Mazhar Majeed treats the young cricketers—as inferior social beings dependent on his largesse. And they seem to accept him as such. After all, he has the money and the connections, just like all the others they have been told to obey and admire.

India Today has a story that hits the right spots with its toxic mix of corrupt cricketers, the fix, and the underworld — but speaking for myself, I am not entirely convinced by this one. For something on this scale to have happened — and remember, the Rs 50 crore cited here is not the sum total of the bets, merely the extent of losses suffered — I have to believe that such astronomical sums were wagered on the possibility of only two no-balls being bowled in course of an innings. Stretches credulity, that — fix or no, there is no bowling side in the world that can guarantee to bowl only a specific number of no balls in course of an innings; the no-ball [the non-fixed ones, that is] is an involuntary, heat of the moment act, mostly caused by a temporary blip in the bowler’s circuitry. You can as a bowler/bowling team guarantee to bowl one on demand; the converse, that you can guarantee not to bowl one, is a bridge too far for me to contemplate crossing.

To understand a crime, you have to understand context — and when it comes to Pakistan cricket, there are few that can explain context better than Osman Samiuddin. Two pieces of his that I read over the weekend provided context and backstory — from The Guardian and The Times of India.

Along with context, there is this: the past is always prologue, in cricket as in life. Gideon Haigh delves into the past, to provide a lesson for the present:

To cricket’s antique traditions, we must turn for a parallel crisis. Because, for much of its early history, from its rise in the Restoration to deep into the Regency, cricket and gambling were inseparable associates. The nobility and gentry who fostered the game understood about the game what the match- and spot-fixers do now – that in a gaming sense it is a target-rich environment, full of possibilities for wagers.

The oldest surviving version of cricket’s laws features extensive provision for the settling of bets.

Cricket also grew rich in potential for malpractice – to the point of almost causing its own downfall.

As one repentant player explained: ”Matches were bought and matches were sold, and gentlemen who meant honestly lost large sums of money, till the rogues beat themselves at last. They over-did it; they spoilt their own trade …”

What ended up saving cricket was that it became so obviously corrupt as to endanger its increasingly lucrative trade as a spectator sport, which was enough to scare its practitioners and impresarios straight.

That’s the view from the world at large; me, I am content — no, not content, more like resigned — to allow this drama to play itself out under the aegis of the ICC; to wait for a determination of guilt and innocence and all shades in-between. As Haigh said in his piece:

Cricket has in its hands the instruments of its own deliverance. The question is whether it has the courage to use them.

PS: I’m off, starting tomorrow, for an off-site that will take up the rest of the week. Expect blogging to be desultory to non-existent, for the duration.