Pak cricket: Sport dies the moment cheats join the game
Corruption has a long tail in that part of world, only a fraction of which is contained within the sporting landscape.
Pakistan all out for 74 at Lords. Who would have bet on that? Those prophetic words were pinged across the ether via my Twitter account at 4.45pm on Saturday. In the absence of the kind of hard evidence being loaded on to the News of the World presses, irony was the only device available to express a view that came too readily as far as Pakistani cricket is concerned.
Corruption has a long tail in that part of world, only a fraction of which is contained within the sporting landscape. Not even cricket, a sport cast as a bastion of rectitude, is able to resist the consequences of state-backed economic, educational and cultural impoverishment.
That is their excuse. What is ours? A year ago almost to the day the first hint of the Renault racefixing controversy that ripped through Formula One emerged at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, a sacred racing precinct revered by Grand Prix men. Here, on the vast asphalt straights and rapid corners that cut through the forests of the Ardennes, the greats of the game have made their name.
It was not deeds of derring-do played out at 200mph that made our hair stand on end but a vile tale of organised sporting crime that had Nelson Piquet Jnr, the son of three-time world champion Nelson Snr, deliberately ramming his car into a wall to facilitate victory for his team-mate, Fernando Alonso, at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
The development cut F1 to the quick, following as it did on the heels of the "lie-gate" scandal that snared our own Lewis Hamilton in Australia at the opening race of 2009, in which the McLaren driver changed his evidence during a routine steward's inquiry; and the " Ferrari-gate" affair of 2007, which resulted in a record £50 million fine for McLaren after the team was found in possession of an 800-page dossier detailing the working of their rival's car.
Though the motivation to cheat was not financial, as in the case of Pakistan's cricketers, the shameful F1 trilogy revealed base practices that infringed the deeply ingrained notions of fair play central to our understanding of what sport is. It is not over yet. The sport returns to the courts next week when Ferrari are called before the F1 beak to answer for the result at this year's German Grand Prix, where race leader Felipe Massa was instructed to let his team-mate, Alonso, through for victory on the grounds that the latter was better placed to win the world drivers' championship.
The cynical manipulation of that outcome demonstrated contempt for the spirit of competition as well as an infringement of the rules. Equally pernicious is the erosion of trust between participant and observer that results from episodes such as these. The moment fans no longer believe what their eyes are
telling them is the point at which sport perishes, losing its value and its meaning.
We have seen how cycling and athletics, following the widespread use of drugs to enhance performance, have had credibility eroded. Ben Johnson lost more than his medal when his sprint to gold at the Seoul Olympics was found to be fraudulent. His char- acter, like
that of the cricketers presently under the moral microscope, is forever stained - in his case, over 9.79 seconds. Only last week, Dr Wendy Chapman was forced to relive her part in the Bloodgate scandal that took down one of English rugby's best-loved figures, Dean Richards. The exposing of the Harlequins coach, not only as a cheat but as a liar attempting to conceal his role in the feigning of a blood injury with a cover-up, was the more alarming given his past as a The miscreants roll out their excuses, pressure to succeed, blah, blah, blah, without a thought for the victims, losers as well as winners. How will the record for an eighth wicket set by England's Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad be regarded now? Both etched their names on to the Lord's honours board, Broad with an innings of 169 that surpassed anything his Test-playing father posted in a distinguished career.