Professional cricketers are not actors

The vast majority of viewers watching the IPL final would not have the slightest doubt about how much it meant to the players involved.

Most professional cricketers can’t get by in a cocktail party, so ‘acting’ enthusiastic and real in a match watched by hundreds of millions around the world might be a bridge too far.

They felt every emotion they portrayed. It was real. They are professional cricketers with a gene which propels them to compete, and win. It’s very hard to pretend against that gene. It was good to watch the final, and good to be reminded of the passion which exists.

But it wasn’t enough to wipe away the sour taste which spot-fixing left in my mouth.

Actually, it wasn’t the spot-fixing. That’s been around for decades and I’ve learned to live with it. As abhorrent and disgusting as it is, it rarely affects the match result. But then, who can ever be certain?

A dozen years ago, when Hansie Cronje swore under oath that he had “never fixed the result of a match”, he was right. That was true. But I was immediately curious about why he said “the result”. It struck me immediately that he was bracketing something else.

Now we understand why. Back then, we understood almost nothing of ‘spot-fixing.’ How many runs in an over? How ridiculous! Now the reality is all too clear. Micro-sections of a game can be manipulated by players in the misguided and delusional belief that it won’t affect the outcome of the match. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

I’ve been speaking to players on the subject for a dozen years. Most tell me they have never seen or heard anything suspicious. And some of them are being honest. Others, the majority, admit to having witnessed random acts of peculiar behaviour.

But they cannot say so publicly for two reasons: the first is that they have no actual evidence, and the second is that they (naturally and understandably) do not want the game they love and their livelihood undermined by the innuendo and insinuation created by what they may say. Never mind the potential legal cases they may face.

“He bowled four wides down the leg side the moment he asked me to stand up to the stumps,” one wicketkeeper told me. “But the ball was reversing so it could have been an honest mistake. I thought it was odd, but what do you do?”

It is one of, perhaps, 50 similar comments I have received over the last decade.

I remain equally convinced of three things: Corruption exists, and has done for centuries. It exists in a tiny minority of professional players. And finally, that I am undecided about the choice between keeping my head below the parapet and feeding my family, or digging towards the roots.

Uh oh, I think that’s the sound of a daughter requiring a bed time story.

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