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If Bodyline gave cricket’s administrators an early indication of just how inextricably tangled politics and the noble game can quickly become, an even more serious incident erupted thirty-five years later, this time involving South Africa, whose racist political system was beginning to stir public conscience around the world.
At the centre of this particular drama was Basil D’Oliveira, a South African who was classified by the apartheid regime as ‘Cape coloured’, or of mixed race, and therefore prohibited from participating in any sport alongside white South Africans. As a youngster he lived for cricket (and football) and used to climb the trees outside the Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town to watch the cricket. Through a combination of outrageous talent and a burning desire to succeed, D’Oliveira became captain of the non-white South African cricket team – and also played football for the non-white national team – but he became increasingly frustrated at the political barrier that prevented him from representing his country at the highest level. Left with no alternative, D’Oliveira decided to emigrate to England, helped to no small extent by the cricket writer and broadcaster, John Arlott, to whom D’Oliveira had written in 1958, asking for help in finding a role as a professional in one of England’s leagues. This unlikely connection was forged through D’Oliveira listening to Arlott’s legendary radio commentary. ‘His voice and the words he spoke convinced me he was a nice, compassionate man,’ he said.
Arlott managed to secure D’Oliveira a contract for the summer of 1960 with Middleton Cricket Club in the Central Lancashire League. He subsequently topped the League’s batting averages that season, arousing the interest of Worcestershire County Cricket Club, for whom he first appeared in first-class cricket in 1964. Throughout, D’Oliveira maintained that he had been born in 1934, which by most people’s reckoning took at least three years off his true age. Indeed, his most likely date of birth was 4 October 1931, but D’Oliveira knew that he would be considered dangerously past his sell-by date had he revealed to Worcestershire that he was approaching 33 when he made his dеbut, rather than 29, and that he would surely have had little chance of making his dеbut for England against West Indies in 1966 had the selectors known he was in his thirty-fifth year. This was just another intriguing subplot in the life of a man whose name will always be linked with the eventual downfall of apartheid.
D’Oliveira’s Test career began promisingly, being run out for 27 in his first innings and picking up a couple of wickets with his gentle swing bowling, which was to become surprisingly successful at breaking stubborn partnerships. He scored two half-centuries in his second Test, which England lost, and a battling 88 in his third, at Headingley, where West Indies recorded an even more emphatic victory, this time by an innings and 55 runs, to set up their 3–1 series victory. D’Oliveira’s first century for England came the following June in the First Test against India at Headingley. A further 81 not out against Pakistan later that summer helped him to become one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year for 1967, and these performances took him to West Indies for the winter tour.
More than five thousand miles away in Pretoria, the South African authorities had been monitoring D’Oliveira’s development and knew they had a problem. England, travelling under the auspices of MCC in those days, were due to tour South Africa the following winter and the interior minister, Pieter le Roux, had already warned MCC that D’Oliveira would not be allowed into South Africa if he were chosen in the squad.
In the event, the West Indies tour did not go well for D’Oliveira either on or off the field. He played in all five Tests but passed fifty only once and, on his first tour, it soon became clear to his team-mates that Dolly could become quite fiery when he had consumed a drink or two. There were further political developments, too, with the former MCC president Lord Cobham assuring the South Africans that MCC would do everything in its power to ensure that the winter’s tour went ahead, and the pressure was ratcheted up a notch when John Vorster, the prime minister of South Africa, warned that the tour would be cancelled if D’Oliveira were selected.
Despite his indifferent form, D’Oliveira was selected for the first Ashes Test of 1968, and although Australia won the match, he top-scored in the second innings with an unbeaten 87. It was when he was replaced by Colin Milburn for the following Test, to make way for a third fast bowler, that the first whiff of suspicion of a possible political intervention was detected. MCC secretary Billy Griffith contacted D’Oliveira and urged him to rule himself out of the South Africa tour. Griffith also suggested, absurdly, that D’Oliveira might make himself available for South Africa instead. In July, with D’Oliveira now out of the England team, MCC approached thirty players to check their availability for the tour – but not D’Oliveira.
Although the Ashes were already lost, England needed to win the Fifth and final Test against Australia to draw the series. Roger Prideaux, who had scored 64 in the first innings of the previous Test at Headingley, was forced out of the match through injury and D’Oliveira was called up. However, he was the only player not to be asked on the eve of the game by Doug Insole, the chairman of selectors, to declare his availability for the tour to South Africa.
The Oval Test of 1968 was a remarkable game of cricket in its own right. England set Australia 352 to win and, just before lunch on the final day, Australia were heading towards defeat at 85 for five when a torrential storm flooded the ground. The sun reappeared shortly afterwards and the groundstaff – helped by volunteers from the crowd who were armed with brooms, buckets and towels – set about drying the outfield. At 4.45, play restarted with only seventy-five minutes remaining.
The captain, Colin Cowdrey, used all his frontline bowlers, but John Inverarity and Barry Jarman could not be shifted. With barely forty minutes before stumps, Cowdrey turned to the great partnership-breaker, D’Oliveira, who duly bowled Jarman in his second over. Derek Underwood, revelling in the rapidly drying conditions, finished the contest by taking the last four Australian wickets in twenty-seven balls with every fielder crouched around the bat.
All of that would surely be enough to make the match memorable. But this game had gained a significance of its own when, in England’s vital first innings, D’Oliveira scored 158 from 325 balls. It was not a flawless innings – far from it. In fact he was dropped four times. But this surely was a performance, played under great personal pressure, that demanded selection for the winter tour that followed. However, as we have already established, these were far from normal circumstances.
The selectors convened at eight o’clock on 27 August, the evening the Test finished, and the meeting closed at two o’clock the next morning. Of the five selectors – Insole, Cowdrey, Don Kenyon, Alec Bedser and Peter May – only Kenyon is reported to have supported D’Oliveira’s selection. Curiously, the minutes of the meeting went missing and the chairman, Insole, explained D’Oliveira’s exclusion by saying that he was regarded as a batsman rather than an all-rounder, and that there were better players in the squad.
These days, with Twitter and other social media, reaction to the news would have been fast and furious. Sporting issues rarely made the front pages back in 1968, when press coverage was rather more sedate and considered, but the Reverend David Sheppard, who played twenty-two Tests for England, stated that the MCC had made a ‘dreadful mistake’. This galvanized members of the private club to force a meeting on 6 September and the D’Oliveira affair gripped the nation, with the News of the World announcing that they would send D’Oliveira to South Africa to report on the Test series for them.
The next twist of fate involved Tom Cartwright, the softly spoken seam bowler who had been selected for the tour despite having a shoulder injury. He appeared to have proven his fitness by bowling ten overs in a county match for Warwickshire, only to withdraw from the touring squad two days later. D’Oliveira was named as his replacement.
The reaction from South Africa was immediate. Prime Minister Vorster declared that the MCC team had been selected along political lines and that his country would not welcome it. The South Africans pointed to the fact that D’Oliveira had first been considered as a batsman, but then replaced an injured bowler – although, with seven first-class hundreds to his name, Cartwright was more of an all-rounder than purely a bowler. ‘The MCC team is not the team of the MCC but of the anti-apartheid movement,’ Vorster announced deliberately in his harsh, guttural Afrikaans accent.
What is almost certainly true is that D’Oliveira was not the selectors’ first choice as replacement for Cartwright. There was his poor tour report from the previous winter to be considered, and Barry Knight and Ken Higgs were rated ahead of him as bowlers. However, both were unavailable through injury.
A week later, following a meeting at Lord’s, the MCC called off the tour, but at a meeting in January 1969 the Club voted in favour of inviting the South Africans to tour England in 1970. That was also abandoned when anti-apartheid protestors first disrupted the England rugby tour by the Springboks in November 1969, then threatened to do the same to the South African cricket tour the following summer. In May 1970, under great pressure from the Labour government, the tour was called off, and so began South Africa’s sporting isolation, which was to last until apartheid was dismantled in 1991. Basil D’Oliveira can never have expected to play such a central role in the creation of a new and free South Africa.
Television news coverage had much to do with the success of the anti-apartheid movement in 1969 and 1970. By showing the demonstrations and interviewing key protagonists like future government minister Peter Hain, the general public became much more aware of the political situation in South Africa, even if most of them did not approve of the disruption that was caused to the Springbok rugby tour. Just seven years later, the power of television was to tear cricket apart.
As is always the case with these things, there were a number of separate issues that combined to lead to the formation of World Series Cricket (WSC). The first was the increase in the popularity of television in Australia, where a burgeoning audience was treated to a plethora of imported programmes from the USA. Alarmed at this growing dependency, a campaign called ‘TV: Make it Australian’ led in 1973 to the imposition of a quota by the government. Crucially, the screening of Australian sport was allowed to be part of that quota, which immediately appealed to the cricket enthusiast Kerry Packer, an Australian media tycoon who, among other interests, owned the commercial television network, Channel Nine. Packer saw the opportunity to break with tradition and broadcast more sport, which up until then had been screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The attitude of the sports administrators at that time was very different from today, in that television was viewed then more as a threat to a live event than as a financial lifeline. It seems crazy now, but with Packer determined to buy the cricket rights at virtually any price, he was throwing money at the Australian Cricket Board, only for his offers to be rejected in favour of the ABC despite the corporation paying considerably less. His final attempt in 1976 was an offer of A$1.5 million over three years, which was eight times the previous contract with the ABC. Again, he was rebuffed.
The third strand was the widespread dissatisfaction of the world’s leading cricketers at the level of their pay. Indeed, their salaries were so low and their futures so insecure that persuasion did not even come into it when the offers came to sign up to a concept that was still very much in its embryonic form.
Packer’s plan was to enlist Australia’s best players and pitch them against a World XI. The matches would be staged in Australia and broadcast on Channel Nine. The former Australia captain, Ian Chappell, was engaged to approach the Australians, while Tony Greig, the captain of England, was recruited in the utmost secrecy by Packer effectively to act as an agent and approach the world’s leading players. By May 1977, Packer had clandestinely contracted thirteen of the seventeen members of the Australian cricket team that had just begun its tour of England.
The sensational news was leaked to Australian journalists on 9 May, and the cat was out of the bag. It was hardly surprising that most of the English hostility was aimed at Greig, whose strong South African background only added to the widespread accusation of treachery. Greig was quickly sacked as England captain, but retained his place in the team. The Australians were distracted and divided, and lost the Ashes series 3–0.
At this early stage, Packer still hoped to reach a compromise. He came to England in May to meet the authorities, who had another shock in store when it was revealed that Richie Benaud, the highly respected former Australia captain and television commentator, would be acting as an advisor to Packer. This was not merely an advisory role: Benaud also composed the rules and regulations for WSC. Benaud and Packer met the ICC, cricket’s governing body, at Lord’s on 23 June to discuss the proposed format of WSC. The meeting appeared to be going well until Packer displayed a rare misunderstanding of the situation by demanding that the ICC award him the rights to broadcast Australian cricket exclusively from 1979. This, of course, was not an ICC responsibility – the domestic television rights had to be negotiated with the ACB – and when this was relayed to him, Packer stormed out of the meeting and made this unequivocal statement: ‘Had I got those TV rights I was prepared to withdraw from the scene and leave the running of cricket to the board. I will take no steps now to help anyone. It’s every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.’ If the game had any lingering doubts about the seriousness of Packer’s intentions, they certainly did not exist any longer.
When the ICC ruled in July that any player taking part in one of Packer’s matches would be banned from Test and first-class cricket, war was declared. This was, after all, a direct threat to the players and their ability to earn a living, so when Greig, Mike Procter and John Snow decided to challenge the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) in the High Court, Packer put his financial clout behind them. This included audaciously hiring the most expensive QCs in England and paying them a retainer for the duration of the trial to prevent the TCCB from having access to their expertise. In November 1977 Justice Slade backed the players, ruling that any ban on the Packer players by the ICC and TCCB would be an unreasonable restraint of trade. The players knew that they would inevitably be banned from Test cricket, since countries are free to select whom they want, but they would at least now be free to continue to play county cricket.
Packer did not have everything his own way. World Series Cricket was banned from every cricket venue in Australia that had an affiliation with the board. Since poor pitches would make the whole venture look second rate – which was hardly the image Packer wanted to promote on Channel Nine – this was a serious concern. After all, he had now hired some of the fastest bowlers in the world, and the ‘Supertests’, as they were called, needed to be credible. The solution was drop-in pitches, which were cultivated off-site and then transported to the venue for the match and set in place. This enabled WSC to be played at VFL Park – an Australian rules football stadium in Melbourne’s suburbs – and, more unusually, Gloucester Park in Perth, which is a stone’s throw from the WACA but is a horse trotting track. Drop-in pitches have become more popular since Packer pioneered the concept, particularly in New Zealand, and they are just one of the many legacies of WSC. Another is the protective equipment that we take for granted these days. Because the early strips were still at an experimental stage, the batsmen were uneasy facing the fast bowlers. When David Hookes had his jaw shattered by a bouncer from Andy Roberts, helmets – which were then more like motorcycle crash helmets – and extra strap-on body protection became essential items in every WSC player’s kit bag.
WSC was expanded from its original concept of Australia against the Rest of the World to include the West Indies, who were emerging as the best team in the world with outstanding batsmen like Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd and their fearsome battery of fast bowlers led by Roberts and Michael Holding. The reason was very simple – money. The cash on offer from WSC was more than many West Indian cricketers might have expected to earn from their whole career, and given the status of the team – and Packer’s desire to make cricket a more physical, dangerous and therefore more watchable sport – the West Indian fast bowlers were irresistible to him.
The first Supertest was staged at VFL Park on 2 December 1977, featuring WSC Australia versus WSC West Indies. Not surprisingly, not many turned out to watch, but nevertheless, WSC was now up and running.
Packer’s plan was for WSC to drive his television audience, and since this naturally peaked in the evening, the solution was simple – to play limited-overs day/night matches under floodlights, with white balls, and in coloured clothing. This was an entirely new concept and one that the authorities mocked. They portrayed the cricketers as playing in pyjamas, and while the choice of coral pink for the West Indies did not go down at all well with the players because of the colour’s gay overtones, day/night cricket played on warm evenings under the stars was a genuine innovation, and another of Packer’s legacies. Games played under lights might be unsuited for top-class cricket, but slowly, and despite hostile media, crowds warmed to the idea and it clearly had a future.
At this stage, the ACB was winning the battle. Large crowds had turned out to support the traditional and closely fought Test series against India, which Australia won 3–2. Deprived of its best players, the ACB recalled the 41-year-old former captain Bobby Simpson to lead its team of youngsters. Simpson had been retired from the game for ten years but was hugely popular with Australian cricket lovers, who took to the notion that was peddled in the press of this ageing character being recalled to stand up for the proper form of cricket, which was coming under attack from the raucous and thoroughly uncouth WSC.
This image came under fire when Simpson then took his team to the Caribbean in March 1978. West Indies selected all their Packer players and Australia, armed only with Jeff Thomson, took a hammering, although they did manage to win one of the four Tests. Simpson averaged only 22 in the series and was subsequently replaced by Graham Yallop.
The ACB appeared to be winning the early salvos on the home front, at least, in their battle with WSC, but victory would depend on the other cricket boards around the world taking a similarly strong stance. England refused to select its Packer ‘rebels’ – Tony Greig, Dennis Amiss, Alan Knott, John Snow, Derek Underwood and Bob Woolmer – but the defeat in the High Court meant that they were available to play county cricket. Elsewhere, the WSC situation was widely viewed as being an Australian domestic problem and it soon became clear that no other countries were willing to ban their Packer players. Indeed, the impecunious West Indies board negotiated a WSC tour of the Caribbean for the spring of 1979, and when Packer signed up more young Australians for the second season, which was also to include a senior WSC tour featuring largely recently retired international cricketers, the ACB’s position was looking increasingly hopeless.
I was in Melbourne playing club cricket during the second season of WSC and watched a one-day match at VFL Park. Clive Lloyd, captain of the West Indian team, remembered me from a county game the previous summer and invited me into their dressing room to meet Michael Holding, Viv Richards and Andy Roberts. None of them, I can confirm, was best pleased with their outfits. My impression of the live event was that it failed to meet expectation – even of a then 18-year-old cricket fanatic. The floodlighting was poor, the playing area was the wrong shape, and the players were understandably suspicious of the quality of the drop-in pitch. There were very few spectators and the whole thing seemed rather gloomy. However, on television it came across entirely differently, and was very exciting. The floodlights, white balls and coloured clothing all shone on television, and the pitch microphones picked up every word – and there were plenty. WSC traded on being brash and brutal. Gradually sceptical television viewers began to enjoy this new way to watch the best cricketers in the world in a way that had never been possible before. I was changing my mind and began to think it was really thrilling.
The big breakthrough for WSC came in November 1978. Packer persuaded the premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran, to overturn the ban on his using the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground, and 44,377 people turned up to watch the floodlit match between WSC Australia and WSC West Indies. It was a huge success which coincided with the official Australian team losing the First Test to England. That series was to end in a 5–1 defeat for Yallop’s men and, as any Australian will tell you, they hate losing. The Supertest final between WSC Australia and WSC World XI was also played at the SCG and attracted a further forty thousand spectators over three days. Just a week later, half that number turned out to watch the Sixth Test between Australia and England. The tide was turning against the ACB, which was also recording alarming financial losses.
So it was with great interest that I attended the annual meeting of the Professional Cricketers’ Association at Edgbaston the following April. John Arlott presided over the conference, which coincided with negotiations between the various parties in Australia nearing a critical phase. Greig spoke, and was roundly criticised – publicly at least – but the majority of professionals in the room also hoped that WSC would lead to improved salaries for county cricketers. That was certainly the thrust of Greig’s argument.
The announcement of a deal came on 30 May 1979. Not only had Channel Nine won the exclusive rights to broadcast Australian cricket for ten years, but also to promote and market the game. There was a feeling in England that the ACB had sold out – the TCCB had lost a very expensive High Court case, after all – but a solution had to be found. Australia’s Packer players were not reselected until the following domestic season, when Greg Chappell was restored as the national captain, and as a sign of a return to normality, Mike Brearley led an England team to Australia to play three Tests. However, it being a shortened series, the TCCB refused to allow the Ashes to be contested – which was just as well, as Australia won every Test – and by refusing to permit its team to wear coloured clothes in the day/night internationals, the English board made itself look positively outdated and reactionary. This delighted the Australians, ensuring that the old rivalry received a much-needed injection of hostility, and after three tumultuous and turbulent years, normal service was resumed.
For a sport that is supposed to abide firmly to a strong moral code of gentlemanly behaviour, cricket has some undeniably dubious origins. By the end of the seventeenth century, gambling was inextricably linked to the sport and there are even suggestions that the emergence of county-based cricket came as a result of gamblers forming their own teams. There are reports of a ‘great match’ held in Sussex in 1697 being played for a stake of fifty guineas per side. But cricket was not the only sport to attract gamblers, and there is no suggestion of matches in the dim and distant past being ‘thrown’ or tampered with in any way in return for a pay-off. This was certainly well before there was any spot-fixing or any of the other corrupt activities that have become the scourge of the modern game.
It was in the 1990s that the cricketing rumour mill went into overdrive with claims that international matches were being fixed by players. Perhaps it was purely coincidental that this was also the time of numerous ball-tampering allegations, but it is definitely true to say that cricket’s reputation for being a clean and ethical sport was at its lowest ebb. Subsequent investigations and inquiries have confirmed the existence of corruption, fuelled by the massive illegal bookmaking industry in India and Dubai, in particular. The South Africa captain, Hansie Cronje, and his Indian counterpart, Mohammad Azharuddin, became the first high-profile international cricketers to be banned for match-fixing. When the extent of Cronje’s involvement unravelled during the subsequent inquiry in Cape Town in 2000, led by Judge King, it became clear that cricket faced a huge problem, and that the integrity of the sport was at stake.
The first claims of match-fixing originated in county cricket. Don Topley, an Essex player, created a storm when he announced that two matches played over a weekend in 1991 between Essex and Lancashire were fixed. The deal, he claimed, was for Essex to lose the Sunday League game in return for Lancashire allowing Essex, who were in the race for the County Championship title, to win the corresponding Championship match. Topley confessed to deliberately bowling poorly in the Sunday League match when he made his allegations in 1994. There was an investigation by the TCCB and, five years later, by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Metropolitan Police, who found insufficient evidence to press charges despite two new witnesses supporting Topley. The inquiry by the ECB was described by some as perfunctory, and it did not appear that many on the county circuit took Topley’s claims seriously.
Australian cricket was rocked by the news that two of its favourites, Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, had both been given cash payments by an Indian bookmaker known only as John. Warne received A$5,000 and Waugh A$4,000 in exchange for what the players insist was nothing more than weather and pitch information before matches on their tour of Sri Lanka in 1994–5. An Australian journalist was tipped off that at least one Australian player was being paid by a bookmaker, and the officials were informed. Waugh and Warne admitted their involvement in unsigned handwritten statements, and the ACB chairman, Alan Crompton, fined the players. However, this was kept secret even from fellow members of the board who might have pressed for suspensions to be imposed. Another factor was that Waugh and Warne had both accused Salim Malik, the captain of Pakistan, of attempting to bribe them to lose matches and this information would have damaged their credibility as witnesses in the event of an inquiry.
But the scandal broke immediately before the Adelaide Test between Australia and England in December 1998 when Malcolm Conn, the Australian newspaper’s cricket correspondent, conducted his own investigation and published for the first time the connection with John, the mystery Indian bookie. In a packed media conference in the Adelaide pavilion, Warne and Waugh admitted to having been ‘naive and stupid’. The two players were vilified by the press and public alike, and Waugh received a hostile reception when he walked out to bat on the first day of the Test.
The initial reaction by the ACB does not come as a surprise. It was convenient in the dark decade of the 1990s for the finger of suspicion to point firmly at Pakistan. It is true that most of the rumours about corruption centred on Pakistan’s players, and their captain Salim Malik in particular. There appeared to be a determination among the game’s authorities to make an example of Malik, who in May 2000 became the first cricketer to be banned for match-fixing.
Malik’s fate was determined by Justice Malik Qayyum, a Pakistani judge, who was appointed by the Pakistan Cricket Board to examine allegations of corruption against members of the Pakistan team. In Qayyum’s report, Salim Malik was found guilty of match-fixing in Sri Lanka in 1994–5 and attempted match-fixing in Australia in 1994, and banned for life. Ata-ur-Rehman was also banned for life for ‘general match-fixing’. Other penalties were imposed on some of the best-known Pakistan cricketers. Wasim Akram was found ‘not to be above board’ and fined ?3,700. Waqar Younis was censured and fined ?1,200, as was Inzamam-ul-Haq. The leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, who became England’s spin-bowling coach, was fined ?3,700. Six years later, Qayyum admitted that he had been lenient on some players, including Wasim Akram, because he had a soft spot for them and was a fan.
The scale of corruption within cricket only surfaced for the first time when the shocking news broke that Hansie Cronje, a man who in South Africa would be ranked only one division below Nelson Mandela in terms of popularity and standing, was suspected of match-fixing. The source was the Delhi police force, which, in April 2000, made public the details of a taped telephone conversation between Cronje and a known bookmaker, Sanjay Chawla. Cronje initially denied the allegations but quickly admitted his guilt in exchange for immunity from prosecution in South Africa. The Indian captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, was also seriously implicated and they both received life bans from the game. During the King Commission of Inquiry, details emerged of Cronje’s largely unsuccessful attempts to corrupt a number of his team-mates. Depressingly, these were generally the most vulnerable, either through race or by being on the fringe of selection, and therefore the easiest to influence. Henry Williams, a black pace bowler, testified that he was offered US$15,000 to bowl badly in a one-day international against India, and Herschelle Gibbs, the opening batsman, the same amount to score fewer than 20 runs. As a result of the evidence, both players were fined and suspended by the South African board for six months.
From an English perspective, the most absorbing details to emerge centred on a rain-affected Test match played between South Africa and England at Pretoria in January 2000. At the start of the last day of the final Test, only forty-five overs had been possible throughout the match, and South Africa, in their first innings, were 155 for six. A number of suggestions for making something from nothing had already been dismissed by the administrators. South Africa had already won the series so there was nothing at stake in that regard and, strongly persuaded by Cronje, the England captain, Nasser Hussain, agreed to forfeit England’s first innings in exchange for South Africa reaching a pre-agreed total of 250 and forfeiting their second innings in order to set up the prospect of an interesting day’s cricket. This went down very well with the thousand or so England supporters who had made the trip and who were mighty frustrated, and it was hailed from the press and commentary boxes as a great day for cricket. Not everyone agreed, particularly those who had an interest in horse racing. Mike Atherton was a dissenter within the England ranks, while Sir Ian Botham and the journalist Jack Bannister were vociferous in their disapproval behind the scenes. Effectively, the draw – a nailed-on certainty – was suddenly made vulnerable, and this caused alarm in legitimate betting circles where the book had already been closed.
Under the contrived arrangement, England were set 249 to win, which they achieved with just two wickets and five balls remaining, ensuring that the spectators had their entertainment. However, what was known only to Cronje was that, on the evening before the final day, he was approached by a South African bookmaker, Marlon Aronstam, who offered to give 500,000 rand (approximately ?33,300) to the charity of Cronje’s choice if he declared to make a game of it. When the match was over, Aronstam gave Cronje two payments totalling 50,000 rand (?3,300) and a leather jacket.
Although a large number of South Africans refused point blank to believe a word of the evidence against their national hero, Cronje’s fall from grace was dramatic and ultimately tragic. On 1 June 2002, aged 32, he died in a plane crash in mountains near George in South Africa. Inevitably, conspiracy theories flourished in the immediate aftermath, and then again in 2007 when Bob Woolmer – who had been Cronje’s coach and confidant – was found dead in his Jamaican hotel room. Woolmer was coach of Pakistan at the time, and his team had just been knocked out of the World Cup at the earliest opportunity as a result of a surprise loss to Ireland. The inquests recorded death by pilot error in Cronje’s case, but returned an open verdict in Woolmer’s, which left open the possibility that he had been murdered. However, a review of the case by Scotland Yard determined that Woolmer had died of natural causes, most probably a heart attack.
Aware of the damage that was being done to the integrity of the game, the ICC set about tackling the most serious issue the game had ever faced. An anti-corruption unit was set up, which brought in a raft of stringent measures designed to increase awareness among the players and also to make contact with bookmakers more difficult. A zero-tolerance policy was introduced, leaving no one in any doubt that corrupt players would be heavily punished. It was widely accepted, however, that spot-fixing, in particular, would be very difficult to prove. This might involve the number of runs scored by a team during a specified passage of play in a one-day match, or even the outcome of a single delivery. A bowler delivering a wide or no-ball to order is all that is required for bookies to make a killing on the cricket-crazy, illegal betting markets on the Indian subcontinent.
Allegations of match-fixing, in which games were deliberately thrown by the majority of a team, went quiet after Cronje’s case because of the increased awareness of administrators, umpires and the media. However, this probably allowed spot-fixing to proliferate as the bookies were forced to change their approach. Cricket had lost its innocence in that the simplest dropped catch, inexplicable run-out or mysteriously slow innings now raises eyebrows. But it is one thing to harbour a suspicion in the commentary box, and quite another to make a serious allegation against a professional cricketer who might be guilty of nothing more than making a mistake.
The tour of England by the Pakistan team in the summer of 2010 provided a significant victory in the battle against corruption, although it took a sting by the Sunday tabloid newspaper the News of the World to bring it about. Sharp-eyed commentators working at the Lord’s Test – the final match of the summer – were surprised to see Mohammad Amir, the 18-year-old swing bowler, deliver two no-balls. But these were not ordinary no-balls: he overstepped the crease by a remarkable distance, and yet still released the ball, something that was impossible to explain.
It all became clear on the Sunday morning, which was the final day of the match, when the News of the World exposed the set-up in which an agent, Mazhar Majeed, was seen accepting ?150,000 from the undercover reporter. The deal was that Majeed would arrange for three no-balls to be delivered to order, two by Amir and one by Mohammad Asif. Sure enough, the no-balls were bowled precisely as specified, and the Pakistan captain, Salman Butt, was revealed as the man who had passed the instructions to his bowlers.
The evidence appeared to be conclusive, and this was the verdict of the ICC, which conducted a disciplinary hearing despite the ongoing criminal investigation. All three players were found guilty and, on 5 February 2011, received lengthy bans – Butt for ten years, with five suspended; Asif seven years, with two suspended; and Amir five years. The players maintained their innocence, but in November 2011 were found guilty at Southwark Crown Court of conspiracy to cheat at gambling and conspiracy to receive corrupt payments. Butt was jailed for two and a half years, Asif for one year and Amir for six months. The agent, Majeed, was imprisoned for two years eight months. The case was seen as a watershed moment in the battle that every sport faces against corruption, and it forced Pakistan’s authorities finally to take seriously the long-held view that its cricket team was more exposed to corruption than any other.
However, there was a shock in store for followers of county cricket when, in January 2012, a young Essex fast bowler, Mervyn Westfield, pleaded guilty to accepting ?6,000 to deliberately under-perform in a match against Durham in 2009. He was imprisoned for four months after alleging in court that he had been persuaded to accept the bribe by the Pakistan and Essex leg-spinner, Danish Kaneria, who had been initially arrested with Westfield. Kaneria was released without charge, and denies Westfield’s allegations. However, the case underlines the extent to which corruption has infiltrated the game of cricket and that, potentially, any match televised live to the Indian subcontinent is at risk.
Why is it that cricket has attracted so many controversies over its relatively short life? Racism, corruption, politics – the great game has endured more than its fair share of issues, all of which have threatened its welfare. At least part of the answer must lie in the fact that it is a traditional sport founded upon a strict moral code of fair play and sporting conduct. Any threat to those principles is big news, and I am quite convinced that cricket crises – particularly of the political variety – make bigger headlines even than football crises because of the game’s historical links with the Commonwealth.
It is a fact that cricket has at times played a crucial role in shaping the world in which we live. This is plain to see in the D’Oliveira crisis, which made a nonsense of the often cowardly ambition of many to keep sport separate from politics. Separating the two is almost impossible to achieve and, besides, when you consider the dismantling of apartheid, sport – and cricket in particular – made a significant contribution. The D’Oliveira affair led directly to the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement in which Commonwealth leaders agreed to boycott all sporting contact with South Africa as part of the international fight against apartheid. Supporters of the rebel cricket tours that broke that agreement will say that the English XI tour in 1990, led by Mike Gatting, played a part in speeding up the end of the reviled political system in South Africa. It did, but not because it was the right thing to do. The ill-timed and insensitive tour was a financial disaster for the South African Cricket Union, coinciding as it did with the unbanning of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. The tour became a focal point for demonstrators – Gatting famously admitted to hearing a ‘few people singing and dancing’ outside his hotel – and it quickly became obvious that the tour was unsustainable, and was called off.
Sport and politics are inextricably linked, but the type of sustained pressure that worked against South Africa does not work in every situation. It would not, for example, have made the slightest impression on Robert Mugabe’s stranglehold on South Africa’s neighbour, Zimbabwe, because sport does not play such a strong part in that country’s everyday life. However, an England cricket tour to Zimbabwe in 2003 did allow a precious opportunity for Western journalists – banned at the time by the regime – including myself to enter the country. Once inside, we were able to report on life within the country, from the consequences of rampant inflation to the witnessing of farms being burned to the ground.
It might be everyone’s ideal to keep sport and politics as far apart as possible, but not only is that naive, but it also denies sport the opportunity to play its part in civilizing society and improving lives. A number of great South African cricketers had their international careers ruined by the Gleneagles Agreement, and have every reason to be bitter towards the politicians who drove their own country into sporting isolation. Mike Procter, as fine an all-rounder as there has ever been, was restricted to just seven Tests before the curtain came down. ‘What’s one life,’ he asked me, ‘compared to the millions who were liberated?’
Determined men will always push the boundaries until their actions expose a frailty in a law, and only then will that loophole be closed. It had been tried in the county game, but without the outright hostility and accuracy of Larwood or the volatile atmosphere of a seething cauldron of a Test arena. And we should remember that an Ashes series was the only series that really mattered to the cricket-watching public in the 1930s. Bowling short with as many men as you wanted on the leg side was a legitimate tactic, but not what cricket was meant to be, or the way cricket should be played. It would take Bodyline for people to see this, and it caused the Laws of the game to be changed to prevent it from ever happening again – quite rightly. Did it work as a tactic against Bradman? England won the series, so the argument goes that it did. Bradman always claimed that it didn’t.
The intimidatory bowling of the West Indies in the 1980s was as close to modern bodyline as you can get: the ball whistling past your head at more than ninety miles per hour was extremely nasty. I was a tail-end batsman at the time and did not relish getting out there. Even the top players were unnerved and saw it as a considerable challenge to face up to these great bowlers. But you never heard them complain about it.
The Bodyline story had all the right ingredients: a big, bad fast bowler; a brilliant batsman capable of dominating the series; the unbending patrician figure of Jardine as captain; and a hostile crowd all too ready to find fault with the tourists. Running through the game is the ‘spirit’ of cricket, something that is considered so central to the wellbeing and future of the game that it is articulated in the preamble to the Laws of Cricket under the heading ‘Responsibility of Captains’: ‘The captains are responsible at all times for ensuring that play is conducted within the Spirit of the Game as well as within the Laws.’ This is what holds the game together and I have no doubt Jardine fell short in this regard.
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