Is It Just Not Cricket?

MICHAEL ALHADEFF talks to The Daily Telegraph’s Derek Pringle about everything from the Pakistani corruption scandal to the future of cricket.

controversy cricket Daily Telegraph Derek Pringle fitzwilliam pakistan Scandal

Cricket is something of a cherished institution. It is the knock on the village on long hazy summer afternoons. It is the Long Gallery at Lords. It is a code of conduct. However, the treasured institution, given to us by WG Grace et al, is beginning to look far removed from its origins.

Rampant commercialism has turned cricket into a cash cow – a global circus of vested interests. The juiciest part is T20 with its pumping music, babes and superstars – all of which makes Test cricket look positively prehistoric. More seriously the spectre of corruption has risen once again. It has gone to the heart of the game – is it just not cricket anymore?

Former old boy and England international, Derek Pringle, knows the cricket scene inside out, casting his expert opinions in The Daily Telegraph for over a decade now. If there’s anyone who understands Cricket’s problems, it’s Pringle. I spoke to him to see what he made of the state of the game.

Pringle in his pomp

Pringle worries that the match-fixing scandals could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“I sense supporters are already suffering from fatigue as there is so much cricket played these days, especially internationally, so scandals like this could hasten that turning-off process”, he says. Empty seats at Test grounds around the globe seem to prove Pringle’s point.

A sense of perspective seems necessary here. Cricket has been here before with the Hansie Conje scandal. But as Pringle points outs, “they were all nearing the end of their careers, so cricket was able to move on.”

It’s not just the youthfulness of such talents as Mohamed Amer which makes this case different. As Pringle points out, “some suspect (albeit without strong evidence to back their claims), this is just the tip of an iceberg.” If they are right then cricket could have a real Titanic moment.

Is fixing just limited to Pakistan? Pringle is realistic about the problems. “Pakistan has been a basket case, politically, for as long as I can remember. Unsurprisingly, its cricket team and the administration behind them has reflected that, apart from a brief period when Imran Khan was captain (late 1980s to 1992).”

Pringle says the corruption in Pakistan is endemic, and the cricket merely reflects this, adding “I doubt any of them would hesitate for a moment when offered the chance to make a quick, easy buck.”

It is certainly true Pakistan has real problems, but it may hinder authorities to see this as an isolated case.

Convicted trio: Salman Butt,  Mohammad Asif and  Mohamed Amer

In truth, cricket is extremely vulnerable to betting and corruption. With a host of small variants to bet on, there is ample opportunity for illegal bookies to twist matches. Given the number of variants, Pringle prefers the term ‘spot-fixing’ rather than ‘match-fixing’. To stop the spread, authorities need to target the illegal betting rings just as much as the rogue cricketers.

But corruption is not the only challenge facing the authorities – the amount of money washing around the game has created problems elsewhere. Pay-TV may have raised the profile of the game, but cricketers are now hostage to TV bosses.

“Without credible competition from other broadcasters, Sky can virtually pay what they want,” Pringle says. “The only way the ECB can get more out of them is to offer more cricket, and so it goes.”

The current England crop would be forgiven for thinking that the idea of a tour no longer exists. It has been non-stop duty from Sydney, via Edgebaston, to Hyderabad. Modern cricket is as much about airport lounges as dressing rooms.

All this begs the question: does cricket have a sustainable future? Pringle is pessimistic: “When you can watch almost anything on YouTube, why wait for hours at a cricket ground on the off-chance you might see something similarly entertaining?”

Perhaps what can save cricket, and what is most under threat in today’s game, is the values at the heart of the game: sportsmanship, camaraderie and above all, patience. More than any other sport it is these traditions that make the game what it is.

Like the rest of us, Pringle hopes cricket can continue and that tradition will survive.