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Further thoughts on corruption

Ted Dexter copy for June issue of the Cricketer

When the first whispers and rumours about match fixing were voiced in dark corners,
I simply refused to believe my ears, treating every allegation with the disdain that I thought they deserved. First of all the mechanics of underperforming as a team seemed to contain far too many uncertainties, totally at odds with what the serious gambler needs. Easier surely to fix a tennis or boxing match with only one intentional loser to pay, and only one to settle with in case of a double cross.

Even now, having accepted with heavy heart that the game has been dragged into the gutter by a few unprincipled players, if you read Mihir Bose in your Wisden Almanack , you may agree with me that neither the cricketers involved nor their gambler counterparts really seemed to know what they were doing. It was as if they were playing some sort of silly game, blissfully unaware of the damage done. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. How horribly apt is that biblical reference in this context.

It is human nature to tear down those things that are most revered – and some might say that reverence for cricket is overdone, out of proportion –all about just another ball game like baseball or hockey. I happen to think otherwise. The facts about cricket and how it all works are pretty clear even if some people still find it all a bit of a mystery. But there remain those who know all the facts, think they understand and yet still totally miss the point.

Let me tell you what I think sets cricket apart.
One. It is not a contact sport, but it remains physically demanding and essentially dangerous.
Two.It is a team game but one in which personal performance is highlighted – also there is a requirement for every player to take personal responsibility. You cannot complain in cricket that nobody passed you the ball. You are often enough on your own.
Three. There is such variation in accomplishment from one day to the next. 200 for mike atherton one day and zero the next. 7 wickets fo Gough and then nothing. It takes a stout heart to deal.with such swings of the pendulum. Nobody tells Tiger Woods for instance that he must go stew back in the clubhouse for a couple of days just because he played one bad shot.
Four. The major games last long enough to deny individuals the luxury of pretending to be what they are not. Cricketers personalities are fully revealed on the field of play.
Ian Botham, the wild spirit, Geoff Boycott, the curmudgeonly Yorkshireman and proud of it, the cash register mind of the late Sir Donald Bradman, the carefree genius of Dennis Compton and so to the delightful Muttiah Muraltharan, a man who was apparently born to the game and the business of bowling a cricket ball.

No wonder the game has a literature beyond compare. There is this great edifice of the games history, carved more deeply by some more than others but solid – something permanent against which every generation can test itself. And then along comes one group of thoughtless dunderheads who virtually aim a canon at the middle of it, apparently not caring a jot if it all comes tumbling down. Well, if it is not in ruins, there are certainly some gaping wounds to be healed – and the question is how?

Match fixing is of course not the only assault on the game. There is orchestrated cheating on a scale never encountered before. It is cheating, plain and simple but the perpetrators simply shrug and say it is the way of the world.
Resist the temptation to cheat your way through life is the very message which cricket was designed to bring home to young and old alike. Accept bad luck – and wrong decisions when they come along. Rejoice when the wheel comes round again and it is your turn to profit from a bit of good fortune.

So what is the way out of this unholy mess? For once I am wholly in tune with one aspect of Mr Blair's policy style of government on the hoof. If you seek a reduction in major crime, get rid of minor criminal activity first. Clean up the graffiti in an area and there will be less muggings as people gain respect for their surroundings and then for each other. So we clean up what goes on on the field first and the off-field misbehaviour will more likely wither and die.

Looking around me there is precious little to be immediately optimistic about. Sir Paul Condon seems to be offering no more than a historical record and a few suggestions on policing to minimise the incidence of this scourge. In the same way as fire and brimstone from the pulpit did precious little to modify human frailty , you can forget about the effect of dire threats or getting people to sign pledges of honesty.

We administrators must, I think, adopt a more evangelical approach. We must paint a picture of a new dawn, a resumption of innocence, if you like, which may grab the imagination of a few young players and then spread around when others see how much fun they are having.

It is hard to get the image of the late Colin Cowdrey out of my mind when I start thinking along those lines. Colin saw clearly the importance of those five little words “The Spirit of the Game” tucked away for so many years in Law 42 “Fair and Unfair Play” and set the process in motion whereby that “SPIRIT” has now been defined and brought forward as a preamble to the Laws much like Etiquette in golf. It is our responsibility now – and particularly mine at MCC – to make sure that every young cricketer gets to know the wording of the spirit of cricket by heart. At Colin's magnificent memorial service in the abbey, there were three youhg captains in the procession. To my shame, none of them had even read the words. They all received a copy personally from me. This, on a hugely expanded scale is a fruitful avenue, to be pursued in concert with the ECB and can only benefit the game.

Looking around further for inspiration , imagine my surprise when I came across it in, of all places, Southern California, a land with more eccentrics per square yard than even, may I make so bold, an MCC AGM. Of all places in the world, can you believe it, they have a National Sportsmanship Day… God Bless those thousands of oddballs, because they talk about “ a day to celebrate the intrinsic value of sport as a source of inspiration”.

They go on to ask simple questions about what is fair as opposed to unfair. Its easy they say. Just look at the rules- Laws- and ask whether any questionable tactic demonstrates a skill the game was designed to measure. Was cricket designed to Test which group of fielders can clap their hands louder than the other teams ? answer –no- so don’t do it.

Finally these definitive words There is no victory without honour. Now if every international cricketer had that logo on his shirt rather than the name of a mobile phone or fast food outlet, then we would be starting to win hearts and minds. Any multi- millionaire with a yen to do good in the world could do worse than to buy and decorate Test Team shirts with such a poignant message


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