"Oh Amir, how could you?", "What were they thinking", "They sold out". Add a thousand lines and it still doesn't make a difference. Everyone thought this was happening, no one could prove it. Now there's some proof (allegedly) and people are asking boards and cricketers to prove they're innocent because "We pay our good money to watch these guys play".
Oh and this isn't confined to cricket. NBA fans get all rabid at the business end of every season despite a former referee's claims that he was asked to call games a certain way to ensure series went the distance. Baseball fans in New York and Boston are crazy about their teams even though some of the greatest names in the history of their franchises were on Performance Enhancing Drugs. Pete Rose, the all-time hit leader in the history of Major League Baseball is banned from even entering a Major League ballpark. His absence from the Baseball Hall of Fame still attracts criticism but the league won't bestow up him that honour. It remains to be seen if the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens will make it to Cooperstown. While the sport isn't as popular as it was a few years ago, it still enjoys a big enough status for players to earn 8-figure salaries.
Cricket deals with such issues rather leniently. Cricket South Africa retired Cronje's jersey number. Kapil Dev has made it to the Hall of Fame, as has Wasim Akram after Justice Qayyum let him off because he had a soft corner for the fast bowler. Cricket Australia banned Shane Warne for 12 months when he tested positive for a diuretic at the 2003 World Cup. The legspinner didn't play a single ICC event after his comeback as he decided to concentrate on test cricket. Many consider him the greatest spinner in the history of cricket. The PCB banned and then reinstated Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif when they tested positive for Nandrolone in 2006. Why? Apparently they were tested under the PCB banner and not by the ICC, so it was the PCB rule book that applied. The rule book said a player who was unaware of what he was taking could be pardoned, hence Akhtar and Asif were let off. The whole of Pakistan rejoiced. Five months later both of them were declared unfit for the ODI World Cup, a tournament where WADA was the authority conducting the tests. Yesterday some Pakistani fans were trying to assuage their fears by saying the players had done it for the flood victims.
How would people react if Sachin Tendulkar were suspected of being involved in some form of fixing? What if he tested positive for a banned substance? Do you really think fans would ever believe it even if the truth hit them in the face? I have already heard former cricketers act scandalised at the mention of match-fixing, asking if Tendulkar would ever do it because they know no one would have the balls to even explore the possibility of it happening.
So let's just admit we're suckers for cricket. We didn't stop watching the sport when India's greatest allrounder cried crocodile tears on national television. We laughed and cried with our teams even after Hansie Cronje admitted to fixing games. And we sure as bloody hell aren't going to miss the two-test series between India and Australia. Enough of the sanctimonious articles asking for an overhaul. Enough of feeling devastated by an 18-year old sensation allegedly bowling no balls on demand. This will continue and we will continue waking up at odd hours to watch what might be an 11 on 11 tag team match right out of the Vince McMahon's group of creative writers.
Trust is the biggest ingredient of any healthy relationship. It holds true for that between a sport and its fans as well. But how many times have we allowed players to betray our trust? We must be idiots of the worst kind to let bookies, agents, officials, players take us for granted time and time again. There is a remote in our living room and none of these people can force us to use it to make ourselves heard. Do we use it? Only when we've sufficiently gratified the masochist in us.
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