Thursday, November 3, 2011

Turn and bounce: The Pakistan fixing tale.

29th August, 2010: The now-defunct “News of the World” news agency published allegations that three members of the Pakistan cricket squad touring England that summer had been approached by a bookie, who paid them hefty amounts of money to bowl certain “deliveries” at certain stages of the match. Mohammad Amir, an evolving youth in Darwin’s world of cricket, was accused along with his opening partner Mohammad Asif of bowling no-balls during the exact stages of the match. The third member of the trio, the team’s newly appointed captain, Salman Butt, (riding high on his endeavours in his debut series as captain against Australia) politely refuted the claims in the press conference that followed the day’s play. “I have no knowledge of the claims", he explained, “The Pakistan team has always been a recipient of ridicule. I’m surprised it has gone so far this time”.

Pakistan lost the test match, the fourth of the series, by a mammoth innings and 225 runs. The management looked into the allegations and decided to drop the three from the remaining tour, consisting of two T20 matches and five ODIs.
Now, as revelling the controversy might be, it is, however, very necessary to recall the events of the entire match, not just for the sake of judgement but also to highlight the contrasting features of the game – the astonishing “ups” and the disgraceful “downs”.

26th August, 2010: Having already lost the series, Salman Butt rightly elected to bowl on a pitch that had a bit of moisture as well as a tinge of green. His bowling attack consisted of a potent mixture of fresh blood and wily, experienced seam. Mohammad Asif was fresh out of his drugs ban, and two new faces in the Pakistani bowling line up were creating headlines, specially Mohammad Amir. Just 17 then, The Guardian touted him as the next best thing since Akram. However a soggy outfield, lashed with overnight rain, meant a delayed start for the players and early lunch. Play started post-lunch, and Amir bowled as Ian Botham pointed out, a fairly “indiscipline” no-ball. Asif, too, gave away an useless run when he stepped over “massively”, on the sixth delivery in the tenth over. Pretty usual it seemed. Strauss was cleaned up by an in-swinging peach from Asif, but the light was offered to the batsmen after just 12.3 overs, prematurely ending the day’s play.

27th & 28th August : England resumed play and Mohammad Amir carried on his good form that summer, zooming through a meek English defence, with Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood and England’s new star migrant, Morgan, all becoming scape goats to the swinging southpaw, the last three falling for nought. England 5 for 47 runs and in a heap of trouble. Prior stuck out nearly 2 and a half hours, facing over a 100 deliveries for his hard earned 22, and a critical 50 run stand with another RSA batsman, Trott, before he edged out to Amir. Swann came in, saw the weather, had a chat with the umpire and was sent for an early tea by Amir. He fell to a first ball duck. England were now staring at the barrel at 7 for 102 and for once, Butt was controlling proceedings in the series. In walked Stuart Broad, with all of his father’s height (and a bit more perhaps) and was only a novice with the bat then, having just scored one test match fifty. What followed was a partnership that redefined tail-end batting, as well as the record books, dwarfing (ironically) a sixteen-year old Pakistan feat, in which Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq put on 313 for the 8th wicket against a listless Zimbabwean attack, where Akram made a record 257 n.o. hitting 12 sixes in the process, a feat that hasn’t been eclipsed as yet.

Trott and Broad put on a gigantic 332 run partnership, batting for nearly 95 overs and deep into day three, to sway the game away from Pakistan. Both scored hundreds as England finished with 446 on the board. Amir did, however, claim a six-wicket haul. They then, skittled out Pakistan for a meagre and embarrassing 74 runs, and 41/4 at the close of the third day’s play.

29th August: England rounded off an emphatic innings victory by clearing out the Pakistan batting stronghold for just over a hundred runs. Stuart Broad claimed the Man of the Match medal for his heroics with the bat while, Mohammad Amir claimed the Man of the Series (Pakistan) title for his 19 wickets. 

What followed was no less than perhaps a nightmare for the teenager who hadn’t even received his driving license. The tabloid broke the news of the scam and the trio was banned effectively, after being judged on later findings. Wisden magazine had named Mohammad Amir in its issue of the top five cricketers for the summer. They changed their cover as soon as the story leaked, and for the first time published a “four-man” cover-story. Natwest nearly stripped Amir of his medal, but allowed it later on.

It was a test match that had it all; brilliant bowling, pathetic batting, heroes were born, villains emerged and a talismanic bowler was stained at the hands of the very man he trusted, his captain. Pakistan has always been touted as the controversial child of international cricket. Now that its corrupt scope has reached out to further avenues, we are left with a question: How do we see it as a cricket fanatic? For every time a Pakistani cricketer puts his hand into his pockets, you wonder whether he might actually be tampering the ball. On one hand the decision reached by the British court will serve as a reminder that the game will never tolerate corruption, but it also shows us that every player is not an Indian or an English cricketer, who enjoys superstar-dome and is well paid. ICC should be patted for its action as well as pin-pointed for for not allowing a fair and reasonable cap on the salary of players for the matches they represent their country in.

Moreover, it is our duty as spectators to choose the right conclusion. For me, Pakistan still remains the epitome of fast bowlers. The land of the Sultans of swing, the Handsome Pathan or the feisty Miandad, will never stop producing proud sporting moments for itself as well as for cricket. It is the current crop of players who are responsible for setting perfect examples for the brooding youngsters back home. It is rightly said that if India produces a Tendulkar-esque to smash it all over the park, Pakistan will definitely produce an Akram, trying to clean him up!  

The twist and turn of this team is surely turbulent, but I’m sure it will be well defended. After all, it has to be proven, specifically, within the 22 yards.

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