LORDS: On Friday night I sat questioning Stuart Broad about his maiden Test hundred at Lord’s, full of admiration for a young man who had fulfilled his childhood dream.
Broad beamed with joy at the prospect of exchanging some good-hearted banter with his dad, Chris, over his father’s own personal failure to make it onto the honours board at the home of cricket.
His voice cracked only slightly when he spoke with pride about how his late step-mother Miche, who lost her fight with motor neurone disease in July, was on his mind for every minute of his innings.
His chest puffed up when he realised he and his father had become the first father and son both to score Test-match hundreds.
Sorry Stuart, it means nothing.
On Saturday morning I walked in through the Lord’s gates and saw a boy, perhaps eight years old, pulling at his dad’s coat-tails full of excitement at the thought of watching live Test cricket for the first time.
His dad smiled as the boy struggled to contain his joy at the prospect of seeing his heroes play. No doubt that boy would have loved every minute of what, on the surface, appeared to be another enthralling day of Test cricket.
Sorry son, it meant nothing.
On Saturday Steve Finn, a 21-year-old England fast bowler who has grafted to reach the top of the game, picked up three wickets in front of his doting parents.
Finn’s joy as he was embraced by his new team-mates encapsulated everything that is good about team sport.
Sorry Steve, it meant nothing.
At the start of this now forever to be tarnished Test series, Salman Butt told us a winning national team could put the smile back on the faces of Pakistan’s stricken people after the devastating floods.
Millions of cricket-mad fans have lost their homes and were looking to Butt and his men to provide some solace in these horrendous times.
Butt promised them just that.
His words meant nothing.
This Test match, this series, will forever be tarnished. It could even be wiped from the records entirely.
Because even mention of the Fourth Test tarnishes the name of a sport so many of us hold dear. I watched the tapes of these sordid transactions take place yesterday alongside Richie Benaud, a man whose integrity can never be questioned, and I felt physically sick.
Benaud should not have to witness such an abuse of the game he has graced for more than 60 years. How dare these criminals, because that is what they are, steal the very soul of OUR game?
How dare these criminals rob Broad of his dreams?
How dare these criminals steal a child’s innocence?
Anyone with an ounce of human decency cannot fail to be appalled by the actions of a team who, by placing avarice ahead of integrity, have rocked cricket to its very foundations.
Anyone who loves cricket, and believe me there are many, will want anyone found guilty of taking money to alter the course of a game, to be handed the severest of punishments.
It is time for the ICC to stand up and prove they are not the bunch of spineless pen-pushing technocrats so many of us suspect them to be.
Action has to be taken, because every single one of the 28,500 spectators who paid up to £90 to watch a meaningless Test match yesterday deserves answers.
Stuart Broad deserves answers.
That little boy deserves answers.
They want to know what the hell is going on in our game. It is more than 10 years since the Hansie Cronje scandal first raised the spectre of illegal gambling in cricket.
At the end of last year, the finger of suspicion landed squarely at Pakistan’s door following their calamitous second Test display against Australia.
At the start of this summer, Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria was allegedly involved, along with his Essex team-mate Mervyn Westfield, in spot-fixing.
And now this.
Lifetime bans must be handed out, prison sentences if necessary, because at the moment we are all being made fools of.
Any freak result, any questionable call, is now going to be highlighted as a possible act of treachery.
And rightly so.
Until this cancer of corruption has been forever eradicated from our sport, its integrity will continue to be questioned.
As for the rest of this Pakistan tour, how on earth can it continue?
Arrests are expected to be made, with up to seven of the team playing in Saturday’s excuse for a game likely to spend time in police custody.
How much remains to be seen, but whatever happens between now and the first Twenty20 game scheduled for next Sunday in Cardiff, cricket will be on the front pages for all the wrong reasons.
Whoever the personnel wearing the Pakistan shirt, they will be suspected of being cheats.
The ECB should do the honourable thing and cancel the two Twenty20 games and the ensuing five-match one-day series. The upcoming one-dayers should be called off now to allow the sport time to catch its breath and establish clear, stringent guidelines to prevent this ever happening again.
Don’t hold your breath.
Sadly the ECB have a sorry history of putting financial gain ahead of doing the right thing.
They have an opportunity this week to change that by ending this sorry tour and implementing change in a sport that has lost its soul.
Sport only works when trust is maintained - and cricket is no longer trusted by the people who matter most, the paying spectators.
Cricket faces a pivotal moment in its history. If the administrators fail in their duty it will never recover.
How many more times must our sport be dragged through the mire before action is taken?
How many more times will cheats be allowed to flourish in a game where sportsmanship and honesty were once by-words?
On Saturday, that little boy watched on as Pakistan crumbled pathetically for the umpteenth time this series.
Who knows if they’d got wind of the News of the World being on to them?
They lost this Test, and the series, and should hang their heads in shame.
They’ve cheated that little boy, they’ve cheated Stuart Broad, they’ve cheated the people of Pakistan. They’ve cheated all of us.
Cricket’s name? At the moment, it means nothing.
Courtesy News of The World
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2010.