Where were you? Cricket’s latest JFK moment occurred at around 10pm on Saturday, when the News of the World broke the story of the year. The Spin tends to deal in shocking Saturday nights but this put a new spin on an old theme. For the next hour all we could do was softly shake our head and mumble “not the kid, please not the kid”.
The subsequent 48 hours have been extraordinary, including one of the most surreal sessions of Test cricket ever played; but while there is an understandable desire for swift resolution, the complexity of the case and the need to get any punishments absolutely spot on means that the ICC must take its time here.
We knew the summer was going to belong to Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, but we thought it was for what they did with the ball, not their front foot. If they did bowl deliberate no-balls – and the evidence looks horrible, particularly the picture of Salman Butt starting at the bowler rather than the batsman – it is obvious that they must be dealt with severely, yet the widespread calls for life bans are surely, at this stage, over the top. Given the natural disaster currently affecting Pakistan, it should not be too difficult for us to get some perspective.
If it only amounts to a few no-balls – and, yes, that if is bigger than one of the Spin’s special midnight feasts – the ICC must make the punishment fit the crime with bans of maybe one to two years. Yet before we even rush to that judgement, it is important to clarify the exact circumstances behind any supposed spot-fixing. There have been enough comments from those in the know, like the former Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson, to suggest that this may be far more sinister than a simple case of avarice.
Difficult as it is, given their incredible backstory, we must judge this case in isolation rather than as yet another example of what many feel is institutionalised corruption within Pakistan cricket. For example, when the former England footballer Matt Le Tissier recently admitted to spot-fixing during his playing days, nobody demonised him. In fact, it was all seen as a bit of a laugh. We might say that is the difference between football and cricket. More probably, it is the difference between how we judge England and Pakistan.
Perhaps the desire for smallish bans simply stems from a need to see Amir again. The thought that his career is over is far too heartbreaking to even consider. It is his involvement that has made this case so sickening and sad. We tend to reach for hyperbole at times like these, but Amir really is comparable with any 18-year-old bowler in the history of the game. And those who would easily dismiss him as a greedy deviant should recall his overwhelming joy at taking a Lord’s five-for on Friday, when he bent down to kiss the turf. The News of the World described it as “a kiss of betrayal”, but it wasn’t: it was the kiss of a kid who adores the game. He may have done something gravely wrong; if so, we must hope the ICC does not compound it with a hasty and excessive punishment.