The finest of cricketing traditions, England struggling, nay, losing the Ashes series, is in full swing.
Cricket is a world religion, and Test Cricket is it’s altar. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, try getting someone to sit in your local church, synagogue, mosque or shrine for five days.
It has a following of billions, it is the #2 ranked sport in the world, it is the most popular bat-and-ball game of all, and is exceeded only by football (trans. soccer) in global reach. It is geographically, culturally and financially the most diverse sport, and can trace its unparalleled success to the historical subjugation of a third of the world.
And perhaps more than any other sport, cricket has tradition. Fine, beard tugging, tie wearing, colonial, entirely male tradition. Tradition that may have been broken.
It has come as a great shock to the many ardent fans of the sport that the E.C.B. (the English Cricket Board) have claimed Australia are NOT cheating.
‘I can’t quite believe it.’
Said a fan I met in the bookies.
‘How low are the Aussies prepared to go? This is going against hundreds of years of history.’
A sentiment shared by millions, especially bookmakers.
In a draft statement that was stolen (allegedly) from the E.C.B. by a man claiming to be their cleaner (I paid £20 for it), we have the following:
‘We should like to make it clear, that whilst we fully accept that Australia, by not cheating, are sticking to the letter of law, we feel this is not in the spirit of our Most Holy Game. It threatens the very fibre of imperial life, and undermines the great, time-honoured traditions of cricket. What will become of the colonies? God save the Queen!
What’s more, the Aussies are currently winning, which only goes to make this an even more regrettable circumstance.’
For the non-cricketing fan I should explain that ball-tampering, fixing wickets, scuffing-up-the-crease, sledging (this was invented by Australia), bribery and intimidating umpires (cheating, basically) are hallmarks of this most venerated sport. A test match or international event without at least two of these would be setting a precedent.
Of course, by definition, cheating is breaking the rules, but this has always been understood to be in the ‘spirit’ of the game. The accomplished cricketer simply avoids getting caught.
An insider from the Pakistan squad, who wishes to remain nameless, told me:
‘It’s pretty shocking, and it’s also a great tragedy for those of us who expect to see real cricket played. There was a time when you couldn’t separate us from Australia, but now, clearly we must carry the torch as the game’s foremost exponents of cheating.’
I couldn’t find anyone from the E.C.B. in my local pub available for comment. I did however manage to interview Burt Jones, who lives about 300 yards from Lords, and was once an umpire in a more civilised time when no self-respecting cricketer would dream of sticking to the laws of the game.
‘It’s utterly shocking.’
He said, wiping a tear from his eye.
‘Has it really come to this? You could always rely on the Aussies to be up to something. It’s their hallmark. It’s what makes them a proud cricketing nation. This just spoils the whole thing, and it could soon end up like tennis, and that’s shit. They’re robbing the paying public. I may be forced to watch football, and that barely has any cheating in it. Sad times.’
I had hoped to interview Geoffrey Boycott, ever the voice of reason, but I was told he’s still at the crease at Edgbaston, and has been since 1977.
Of course, Australia wouldn’t be the first Test playing nation to forgo cheating. For two decades New Zealand (known as the Kiwis), have played strictly to the letter of the law… And look where that’s got them, bloody wooden-spooners. That’s what you get for being nice, and being named after a fruit!
But for the Aussies to adopt this tactic, with their fearsome reputation, is more than some can take.
Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Michael Clarke, Micheal Atherton and especially Shahid Afridi, and man so brazen he once, literally, ate a cricket* ball during a match, must all be deeply saddened by this turn of events. All the great cheats are shaking their heads in disbelief, I imagine. The fine traditions they helped create are now, maybe, in disarray.
So, what’s the outlook for cricket?
‘I wouldn’t worry, it won’t last. They’ve got that Steve Smith** playing. I’m sure that’s a penknife I can see in his pocket.’
That, from the guy that sells the Big Issue outside Paddington Station.
But others are less reassured. I secretly texted the E.C.B.s chairman pretending to be a dodgy bookmaker. He was willing talk to me. He said:
‘What really worries me, is that if this sort of thing continues, then what is there to blame it on when we lose? It’s simply unsporting.’