History Repeated as Tragedy

The Lord’s Test between England and Pakistan at the end of August 2010 was memorable for several reasons.  The first of these was the world Test record eighth wicket partnership of 332 between Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad, but, sadly, the match is likely to be remembered more for the fact that three Pakistan players – Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir, and their captain, Salman Butt – were exposed during the match for their involvement in the bowling of deliberate no-balls in order to fulfil an arrangement set up by the News of the World to expose the willingness of certain international cricketers to fix matches. 

On the game’s truncated last day, which ended with England winning the match by an innings and 225 runs, the atmosphere at Lord’s hung heavy with physical and metaphorical gloom.  I reflected on this when I wrote the piece below.

On a grey, slightly chilly, autumnal morning, Lord’s, on this of all days, was a strange place to be.  The air of confusion, regret and uncertainty was tangible, and more MCC members were reading the News of the World than can ever have been the case before.  Buying it felt a little dirty, but it had to be done.

Although Umar Akmal finally showed his true colours, defeat came quickly, but the ramifications of what may have been done in the course of that defeat will take a lot longer to play out.  On the face of it, the evidence is strong, and, if it’s as solid as it appears, the ICC will need to hit this one hard to stand any chance of rolling back what may, in the Indian sub-continent at least, be a rising tide of corruption.

No matter the lifelines it’s thrown, it seems as though Pakistan cricket will always find a way to drag itself back into the mire.  But, as it sinks, individual images linger.

From Lord’s I’ll go with the haunted, shuffling figure of Mohammad Yousuf, dismissed twice in an afternoon on Saturday and looking for all the world like a shattered man.  This was someone who lived and played through the last great series of Pakistani match-fixing scandals, and, in retrospect, you have to wonder whether his crushed demeanour reflected the fact that he had discovered that history was repeating itself.

And then you had Mohammad Amir, striding off after succumbing to Graeme Swann for his second duck of the game.  If things go badly for him it may be the last thing he ever does on a Test match field.

For Test cricket to lose a player of his staggering ability so soon would be little short of tragic, and, for his career to end prematurely would be unutterably sad.  This time, though, people really need to hang for this, and if the case against Amir and others is proved, there should be no coming back.

We move on.  Or we try to.  This, like a partnership between Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad, will run and run and run.

Different Shades of Green, 29th August 2010