April 2000 was a black month in the history of cricket. The Hansie Cronje confession shook the foundation of the “gentleman’s game”. The spirit had been infected with greed. Few more names surfaced-Azhar, Jadeja, Salim Mallik, Gibbs, Boje. Pakistani cricketers of the likes of Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam, Anwar were warned. Life bans, endless investigations, court-room trials, jury decisions – cricket saw it all.
Cricket lost tons of fans that day. I know many friends – hard core cricket buffs, some players themselves at different levels, gave up watching the game. Players were under scrutiny, trust was lost, faith destroyed and punishments meted out.
A few fans though kept quiet; fans like me for whom cricket is almost a religion. You do not give up on religion and god that easily even though all may not seem right. You have been brought up to follow that path and you know no other. You grow up with a belief and you don’t let a few idiots destroy it in minutes. So you tell yourself to look beyond and search for those few to guard the sanctity of your religion. Things begin to improve and somewhere you get the feeling that the therapy is working and the cancer can be cleaned up.
And the therapy worked, or so we believed. What a fabulous decade we had. The game and the teams put rose above the scandal, and took steps to restore the hopeless fan’s faith. Young talents sprung up, Australia dominated, South Africa, England and India fought hard while Pakistan the most unpredictable of the lot, threw up talents like hot-selling cakes.
We had some unpredictable results, uncanny victories, underdogs triumphing and the game had regained its old beauty. We were back to shouting hoarse the age old adage, “Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties”. Then a friend of mine would say – Minal, I think the match was fixed”. I’d mouth of obscenities to him for being a disbeliever, doubter and a shame of a fan to the game. I did not want to believe that such a thing existed. The cancer was killed I was told all these years.
In the last few months, sporadic news came to light – the IPL match-fixing allegations,the Kaneria case. Nothing concrete emerged and we chose to ignore. Benign tumours, false alarms I told myself. If the game is running smooth, the media will find ways to disrupt the harmony for their TRP greed.
I ignored and chose to revel in the joy that the 2 As were bestowing on us fans. Not since the 2Ws have I seen such fine display of seam and swing from Pakistan. Aus and Eng were tottering against these two. Aamir is a genuine talent – all of 18 – he seemed like the blessing Pakistan was seeking all this while.
Pakistan has had an awful year in cricket – the SL attack, its aftermath resulting in sacking of Pakistan as the co-host of the 2011 World Cup matches and the elimination as a host to international tours. Amir and Asif with their fine bowling performances this summer in England had every cricket fan in the world swooning over them.
In a decade dominated by the batsmen, we fans were getting some fine glimpses of the future to come in Amir & Asif. The honours were in balance before the start of the 4th test and on the second day it almost looked like Pak might seal another series draw with Amir’s outburst of 6 wickets having stripped England to 102-7. Broad and Trott came together to play an epic fight back in the history of test cricket.
Pakistan lost the plot and Swann sealed it off England by dismissing them for 74 in the first innings. At 40-4 on the 4th evening , with the fans relishing the cricket dished out in the summer, this was not needed to be heard or read on a fine Sunday morning.
If proven guilty it will be tragic for Pakistan, for cricket and for us fans. Not only will we lose out on a prodigious talent but the doctors will declare that the cancer has not been eradicated and it will be time again for therapy.
I cannot understand what lures a player to sell his pride and his loyalty to the game, to his country , to his fan for a few green notes. You take us for granted – we the blind followers of this crazy religion. Our love does not give you the right to play with it and cripple it. There is enough money in the game today and yet the greed erupts – cause apparently nothing is enough.
Pakistan did not need this – not now when it was clearing up the demons of its torrid past. Amir and Asif looked good to put the team back on track and hunt down the top teams. They had sown the seeds of ambition in this young team. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis would’ve been proud to see their legacy being protected and carried forward.
If guilty, they must pay – with a life ban. If you corrupt the game – you must not be allowed to comeback to it again. The team must be pulled up and Pakistan Board will need to do a lot of self-introspection before the country is allowed to play cricket again. This time the ICC must be harsh,no two thoughts about it. Cause if they let go this time, the cancer will not be contained and will spread like a virus.
If not guilty then they must be given all the support to get back the confidence and walk into the stadium with their heads held high.
Trust and faith are a tricky business. It takes years to build them up and a minute for them to breakdown. The fan today is seeking reasons – reasons to believe that this is one-off and has not tainted the entire game.
Reason is our soul's left hand, Faith her right. ~John Donne
And as cricket’s soul seeks her left hand for the cancer that has eroded her again, her right hand is pinching the left hand hoping to get up from what seems a never ending nightmare.