It’s a story so big that it’s hard to know, like the blind men touching the proverbial elephant, just how big or even exactly what the story is. Two Pakistan players—Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif—were yesterday found guilty of “spot-fixing” during the Pakistan v. England Test series in 2010. (Another Pakistan player, Mohammad Amir, had pled guilty earlier. I’ve written about this case here.) Further investigations are already being launched, on the suspicion that more nefarious activity took place in other matches and with other players. Who knows what these investigations might reveal, and whose careers and reputations will be destroyed?
In praising the verdict yesterday in a British court, the prosecution talked expansively of the men’s betrayal of trust. But in my (Martin’s) opinion, that betrayal is conjoined with an even bigger betrayal: that of the future of the game. In the recently concluded thrashing that the India team delivered to England—one that had been eagerly anticipated by players, fans, and commentators, many of the grounds were half- or even less-than-half full. Some blamed the high ticket prices as a reason for the crowds staying away. But, surely, the problem is that there’s just too much cricket for an audience to enjoy—even one as passionately committed to the game (or, at least, the superstars and glitz and entertainment value of the shorter forms of it) as the Indian people.
In such a saturated schedule, who cares whether some games are won or lost, given that another series will come along (like the Number 42 bus) soon enough? And if nobody shows up or cares who wins or loses, what does it matter if a player makes a few tens of thousands of dollars on “spot-fixing” to keep the betting syndicates happy. At least, the gamblers are paying attention to what’s happening on the pitch.
Cricket is immeasurably more interesting a sport than it was thirty years ago. It’s got more money and more global reach; it’s more visible, more competitive, and engaging more women and children. All that is good. But sporting authorities are killing the game by squeezing every last ounce of juice from it, leaving players, fans, and even commentators tired and jaded. This guilty verdict will only add more to the global feeling of “Enough, already!”