Monday, September 6, 2010

Cricket for Cynics

We all know the cricketing world has been in turmoil over the last couple of weeks. For those who were orbiting the earth, or stuck in that traffic jam in China, here is a quick account.

  • News of the World, beloved of journalism junkies everywhere, ‘stings’ Mazhar Majeed, a British-Pakistani real estate mini-mogul + football club owner. He claims to have most of the Pakistani cricket team in his pocket, and a couple of them bowl no-balls at a pre-decided time during a test match at Lords
  • Scotland Yard begins an investigation. The ICC huffs and puffs. The evidence against Mohammed Asif, Mohammed Amir and Salman Butt is incriminating, and the English team refuses to play against them

So far, so predictable. Things then begin to get really interesting.

  • There is an outcry in Pakistan. The Prime Minister says the nation is ashamed, and Zardari says he is ‘disappointed.’ That’s probably because he wasn’t getting his cut
  • Even as commentators and ex-cricketers are frothing at the mouth, and assorted Chief Justices are saying they told everyone so, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London claims to have investigated the matter in a two hour conversation with ‘the boys’
  • Conspiracy theories begin to circulate – Pakistani ministers speak darkly of a ‘foreign hand,’ also known as The Neighbor Who Gets Named All The Time
  • Asif’s ex-girlfriend brings to life the phrase ‘dishing the dirt,’ saying that she has access to mobile phone records that indicate he was participating in match-fixing. She also says he has a drug and alcohol abuse problem. More recently, i.e. today, she accused Asif of being physically abusive. Without minimizing any of her relationship issues, I would have to say that this is one woman you don’t want to break up with
  • As his colleagues answer questions about their propriety and conduct, Shahid Afridi shows up to take charge. This is the same person who faced disciplinary action a couple of months ago for chewing on a ball
  • The PCB dithers about whether or not to drop their players. So the ICC goes ahead and takes their decision for them
  • Conspiracy theories now fly thick and fast – apparently R&AW, Sharad Pawar (the ICC president) and a vast network of Indian bookies have been planning this for months. We don’t have confirmation yet, but Manmohan Singh and PC may have been in on it too
  • Yasir Hamid, a Pakistani batsman, gets his 15 minutes. He is caught in another sting-op by NOTW. He says fixing has been going on for months, and that he was dropped because he refused to play ball. Later, he backtracks by saying that the NOTW offered him a British passport as inducement to confirm the story

Wow.

I was going to make this a post about how the cricketing public had had Too Much, and how Enough was Enough. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that what we have here are the makings of serious drama - drugs, conspiracy theories, wads of cash sewn into jackets (so Spy vs. Spy), coded SMSes.

This particular fiasco is a worthy successor to IPL-gate, which was a potent mix of tax breaks, backroom deals, shadow companies, Bollywood celebrities, Lear jets, parties, pre-arranged team auctions, meetings with the Dalai Lama and (bizarrely enough), a South African model who was barred from entering India. Tweets brought down Modi and Tharoor, but they firmly resurrected the sports scandal.

It may not be cricket, but it’s definitely entertainment. Lalit Modi would approve. 

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