The Reverse Sweep – The Week in Cricket

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This week we focus on the dreadful spot-fixing allegations encircling Pakistan and despair that it appears to have corrupted the boy-genius Mohammad Aamer. On the actual cricket front, we pay tribute to England’s record breakers Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad, ponder on the make-up of England’s Ashes squad and laugh at the foolishness of Kevin Pietersen.

The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on the sport that God would play, please visit our blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep – selected as one of the 50 best cricket web sites in the world by The Times. Alternatively, you can read our regular column on CricDude, or follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

Sadness and corruption in cricket

No guesses for the story that is dominating cricket this week. With the ICC now having charged Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, the affair seems to be heading for an inevitably tragic conclusion.

We weren’t shocked to hear that spot-fixing was going on in cricket, and sadly we weren’t surprised that the Pakistan cricket team seems to be at the centre of it, but we were stunned to read that it now appears that the dirty tentacles of corruption now seems to have got a hold on test cricket.

The overwhelming feeling is one of sadness. Sadness for the game that we love. Sadness that the brilliant achievements of Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad will be forever tarnished. And if the allegations are true, sadness for the three players involved.

Like many, we had been impressed at the Reverse Sweep by the intelligence and dignified nature of Salman Butt and thought that at last Pakistan had found a captain that could lead it out of the wilderness. It was also good to see that the flawed talent of Mohammad Asif was beginning to flourish after his colourful past record of misdemeanours. Here was a bowler with the metronomic accuracy of a Glenn McGrath and exquisite control, who lest it not be forgotten took his 100th test wicket in only his 19th test earlier in the series.

But the worst news of all was that this ghastly mess seems to have entangled the boy-genius Mohammad Aamer. At the time of writing, it is only a week since he was in the middle of taking six wickets and delivering one of the finest spells of bowling ever witnessed at Lord’s. Throughout the summer, Aamer has bowled fabulously and with real cunning. He has a mastery of swinging the ball both ways, conventionally and reverse, that belies his tender years. In short, Aamer is arguably the finest bowler of his age that has ever graced the game. For him to be caught up in all this is an absolute tragedy.

We are not adopting the “hang ‘em high” approach of many (mostly non-cricket) commentators who have written about the scandal this week. It is right that the three will not participate in the upcoming Twenty 20 and one day series; feelings are running too high for that. But the ICC needs to complete their investigation swiftly and establish three main things. First, are the players in question guilty? Second, if so, what were their motives? And third, is this just the tip of a rather large iceberg?

All these points are important, but let’s take a closer look at the second and third. If Butt, Asif and Aamer are guilty, it is crucial to find out why they did it. The obvious one is that it was purely for money. But what if they were unwilling participants and were forced to do what they did because of threats that had been made to their families back in Pakistan?

The third point is also vitally important. Is this just the tip of a Titanic sized iceberg or an isolated incident? Are other players in the Pakistan team involved and does it just stop at the odd no-ball, or are matches being thrown too? And is this problem just confined to Pakistan? Or is corruption endemic within the game? Those are some pretty meaty questions for the ICC to investigate over the coming weeks.

Once the guilt or otherwise of the players has been established and once we understand why, the ICC will need to hand out appropriate punishment. The severity of the sanctions will need to strike a balance between sending out a strong message to others and the seriousness of the crime, but take any extenuating circumstances into account. For instance if the motive was purely money, then the experienced Asif and the skipper Butt should expect a severe punishment – perhaps even the ultimate sanction of a life ban.

With Aamer we have no doubt that he would been led astray by others and as such, when taking into account that he is still a boy, the punishment should be less severe. Admittedly, we make that statement as cricket fans that have been captivated by the brilliance of the boy-man. But compassion and forgiveness are an indication of being virtuous and that is how the ICC should behave as far as Aamer is concerned.

But like Michael Holding on the Sky Sports commentary last week, we just find this whole mess just desperately sad.

In praise of Trott and Broad

Whilst attention has been on other weightier matters, it should not be forgotten that England went from looking like conceding a series draw to inflicting Pakistan’s biggest ever test defeat at Lord’s last week. That of course, was down to the record breaking partnership between Stuart Broad and Jonathan Trott, which was England’s seventh highest of all-time for any wicket. Broad finally proved that he has the ingredients to become a genuine test match all-rounder and won family bragging rights by beating his father’s best test score. Trott on the other hand, became the leading run-scorer in the world in tests so far this year and topped off a remarkable personal summer where he has gone from most at risk to most secure in England’s increasingly fragile batting line-up. Indeed, if you were picking a current composite England-Australia team, surely it would be Trott rather than the Australian skipper who would get the nod at number three?  .

Most of the Ashes jigsaw seems to be in place for England

Batting collapses apart, England seem to have a suitably settled and equipped side to take on Australia in their own backyard over the winter. The Ashes squad will probably not be named until after the one day series with Pakistan, but most of the names seem pretty obvious already. We’ve had a go at selecting our squad on our blog and we’ve come up with one or two interesting names – see Should this be England’s Ashes Squad?

Kevin Pietersen provides a lighter note

In a sad week for cricket, Kevin Pietersen inadvertently provided a lighter moment when he used Twitter to announce that he had been dropped from the England squad for the Twenty 20 and one day series with Pakistan. Not being the sharpest tool in the box, KP later explained that he had thought he was sending a text message to a friend rather than letting the cat out of the bag to his 30,000 plus Twitter followers. On the actual decision by the England selectors, we weren’t sure at first, but now believe it could be the shock that KP needs to sort himself out ahead of a big winter.

Spare a thought for…

Graham Onions after it was announced this week that he requires surgery on his long-standing back injury, which will keep him out of action for a further nine months. Onions had already been out of action for the whole of this season and will now miss the Ashes and World Cup. Let’s hope England don’t have any close finishes when trying to save a test match over the winter, after Onions’ heroics in the nine wicket down great escapes at Centurion and Cape Town last winter.

…and finally, the quote of the week

Given what followed it was easy to forget Kevin Pietersen’s woeful first ball dismissal in the Lord’s test. Geoffrey Boycott wasn’t impressed on Test Match Special sneering:

“If I’d played a shot like that, I’d have cut my own throat”

Good old Boycs, so that’s all for this week folks.

Where next? Choose from the latest cricket stories…

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