Ancient game faces unique challenge

A centuries-old game developed in the public schools of Victorian England is facing a challenge almost beyond imagination with the murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer at the cricket World Cup.

This expected celebration of cricket and carnival in the West Indies has been overshadowed by the news that Woolmer was strangled in his hotel room in Jamaica after his team were unexpectedly beaten by debutants Ireland.

Ten years ago the news would have been equally shocking. But the conspiracy theorists would not have immediately leaped to the conclusion that match-fixing was at the heart of the killing.

The cricket world changed irrevocably in 2000 when South Africa captain Hansie Cronje tearfully confessed to taking money from bookmakers to influence the result of matches.

Judicial and police inquiries in several countries revealed unsuspected depths of corruption in the sport and as a result Pakistan captain Salim Malik and his Indian counterpart Mohammad Azharuddhin joined Cronje in international exile when all three were banned for life.

Last year was particularly fraught for the game of cricket, its players, officials and followers. Once again Pakistan were in the eye of the storm.

Tested positive

For the first time in the game’s history a match was forfeited when Pakistan refused to take the field after tea on the fourth day in the fourth Test against England at The Oval in London after they were penalised for tampering with the ball.

In fact, they were later cleared of that cricketing crime.

Then drugs, a cancer in sports such as athletics, cycling and weightlifting, where speed and strength are paramount, hit the headlines when Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif tested positive for steroids.

They were the first international cricketers to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Notwithstanding a troubled six months for cricket, those lamenting a decline in standards from a mythical golden age are misguided.

In common with all sports, cricket does not stand apart from society but reflects the standards of the day.
Bookmakers openly plied their trade at Lord’s, the spiritual home of cricket, in the 18th century.

The bodyline series of 1932/33, when the English professional fast bowlers under the command of an amateur captain bowled deliberately at the bodies of the Australian batsmen, threatened diplomatic relations between the two countries.

On the positive side the code of the game developed in the Victorian public schools of the 19th century and exported to the empire had genuine merits.

Umpire’s decisions were not questioned, success and failure, Rudyard Kipling’s twin impostors, were treated with equal modesty.

Times have changed and cricket with it. International cricketers are well paid and not so well behaved.

The game, though, as the one-day version at the World Cup reveals, has never been more attractive and the skills on display at the Caribbean will rival those in any sport. - Reuters

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