Yesterday’s conviction of former Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif was a victory for cricket. But, says Stuart Rayner, complacency could see it quickly squandered
ANOTHER chapter in Pakistan’s relationship with cricket’s dark arts was written in the High Court yesterday when a jury found Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif guilty of spot-fixing.
It was the latest blow to the morale of a sport which seems incapable of shrugging off the cloak of cheating and corruption, and a national cricket team with more than its fair share of form when it comes to bending and breaking rules.
But it is important not to write this off as a Pakistani problem, any more than kidding ourselves that it is simply a cricketing problem.
Sport is so great because of its unpredictability. If everyone knew Newcastle United would be one of only two unbeaten teams in the Premier League by the start of November, or that Manchester United would lose that status by crashing 6-1 at home to Manchester City weeks after beating Arsenal 8-2, what would be the point?
That England can hammer India out of sight for an entire summer then be whitewashed by them in the autumn is part of cricket’s fascination, just as people tuned in to rugby union’s World Cup final to find out if the best team on the planet for decades could finally lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
Moments like Usain Bolt’s Athletics World Championships false start or Novak Djokovic’s sudden emergence to break tennis’ duopoly keep us coming back for more, season after season.
Lose the unpredictability, and you lose sport. Suspending belief can be as bad.
There are two ways at looking at Butt and Asif’s comeuppance. One is to wallow in the fact such a fantastic game has been dragged back into the gutter. The more instances of match-fixing and spot-fixing exposed, the more suspicious spectators will be.
Heaven forbid cricket reaches the stage some sports have where heroic feats are met instantly with nagging doubts about how they were achieved.
The positive view is to glory in the knowledge that a problem is being tackled, albeit through the courts after an investigation by a now-defunct newspaper. Far too late to save it, the News of the World has regained a smidgeon of credibility.
When Mr Justice Cooke draws a line under this sorry affair, probably tomorrow, it will be a good day for cricket.
But whenever wrong-doing is exposed, the emphasis must be on finding more. Butt and Asif’s punishments will hopefully serve as a massive deterrent to those prepared to take a few dodgy dollars. Yet if Hansie Cronje’s even higher-profile fall from grace did not end cricketing corruption, this case will not.
Cricket’s problem is that it, and the betting around it, is so multi-faceted as to make spot-fixing extremely easy and, in the eyes of some, victimless.