A reporter waits for a text update next to whiteboard indicating guilty verdicts for Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif outside the Southwark Crown Court in London
© AFP
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Dear Cricket Monthly,

Disclaimers first. I do not write to accuse anyone of match-fixing, I have little insider knowledge and less outsider understanding. Nor am I reviewing the book and TV show mentioned below that deal with this unholy issue. I write to present a cricket fan's very real dilemma. Though unlike most dilemmas, this one comes with a solution.

A few months ago I watched a Test match that was won and lost on the final day. This was cause for celebration for many, but not me. While fans on social feeds gushed over Rangana's sorcery, Sanga's class and Angelo's resolve, I sat staring at a scorecard, shaking my head.

Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in Galle, seconds before the clouds delivered a storm on the last day. That week I finished Ed Hawkins' Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy, a book I enjoyed and wish I could unread. That week I also caught a CNN exclusive featuring the convicted, and not very repentant, international football fixer Wilson Raj Perumal.

If both those sources are to be believed, match-fixing is rife wherever there is sport, and it is impossible to prove or to contain. And as a cricket fan, if I accept that as a fact, I will find myself in a fix.

At stumps on day four, both sides had banked over 450. Two innings had to be completed in three sessions on a gormless track, with a monsoon expected to shorten the fifth day. Hawkins' book had an example of an allegedly fixed game involving one of the teams that played in Galle. It contained an identical set-up and ended the same way.

In Galle, what looked to be a drab draw became a spectacular collapse followed by a spirited chase. The winning runs were scored seconds before the heavens opened. Fans applauded the poetry of Test cricket and the glorious uncertainty of sport. I was disturbed.

How do we know if a dramatic game is scripted or not? How do we prove that it's theatre and not someone having a bad day? How do we stop a player from accepting a year's wages for a few bad overs? These questions are someone's problem but not mine.

My problems are simpler, and far more complex. If I am enthralled by a match that I later find was fixed, was my enjoyment real? If I was gripped by a last-ball thriller arranged by men with briefcases full of cell phones, did my thrill not count? If a legendary player is outed, should all his records and those scored against him be scrapped?

What if we find out that both tied Tests were bought, that the Ashes have been sold and that the World Cups of '83 and '96 were fairy tales written by the Brothers Greedy? If, as some believe, it is all written, why stay up late to watch?

We are better off not knowing how laws, sausages and T20 tournaments are made. Who wants to know which of their lovers faked it, especially if the answer is: all of them?

As promised, I have solutions. These closely resemble the stages of grief, which probably isn't a coincidence.

a) Denial
Match-fixing is a rare anomaly. Hansie, Azhar and Saleem were bad apples. Cricket still has honour, as do most players. All matches are innocent until proven otherwise.

We are better off not knowing how laws, sausages and T20 tournaments are made. Who wants to know which of their lovers faked it, especially if the answer is: all of them?

So convince yourself that no professional cricketer would ever throw a World Cup, and that match-fixing happens in a fraction of all games, and will soon be eradicated by corruption-busters like the ACSU.

If you wish to preserve this view, don't read Ed Hawkins or watch CNN.

b) Despair
Why bother? Why get riled up while some prima donna pockets your life savings for edging a full toss? Because there is no point getting worked up. Someone out there is making money and it ain't you. No point getting emotionally invested in games that are staged. No point rooting for a team that's been paid to lose or admiring the team that beats them.

So you stop watching cricket, spend more time with family, read some good books, follow a sport that's free from vice, like baseball or wrestling. The key here is to find alternative wastes of time. The less time spent thinking, the better. Because you will miss cricket and end up pondering whether a pleasant illusion is better than a harsh reality.

Which leads nicely to my recommendation on how to stay a cricket fan amid bookies, gamblers, fixers and doubts.

c) Acceptance
Some say legalise betting, I say legalise fixing. The benefits are legion.

The finest storytellers from Test nations could lend their pens. Screenwriters from Bollywood, novelists from Bloomsbury, directors from Middle Earth. We can have thrillers, romances, epics and comedies on turf. Chick flicks and torture porn in the form of one-day internationals. The stunts will be spectacular, the celebrations choreographed, and the twists spellbinding.

Get rival betting syndicates to fix both sides and watch as great players apply their skills and talents to lose while appearing to give their best. Stop blaming players for making an extra buck in what is surely a victimless crime. Who among us has not airbrushed principles because the money was good?

Instead of telling yourself lies about integrity, accept that sport is illusion and means less than you think. You'll feel better. You'll also get to say goodbye to boring matches, as even a two-match series between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh will get a story arc and a production budget.

Is it that heartbreaking? We already draw emotion from things that aren't real. That's what art is. Bambi's mum was a line drawing. Luke Skywalker was a figment. None of it is real except the feeling that you get while watching. And this you get to keep.

Who cares if cricket isn't honest, as long as it's entertaining? Because in these ungodly times, lying may not be a crime, but being boring could well be.

I fear this letter may not have you convinced. Is it that much of a stretch to imagine the IPL as WWE? We already have the costumes, the hype and the bad acting. No? You still believe that the soul of cricket will endure? Fair enough. Are you willing to put money on it?

All the very best.
SK

Shehan Karunatilaka is the author of Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, winner of the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Jobsy on | November 20, 2014, 8:54 GMT

    Lovely article.I was reading about the allegations of fixing in the 2011 world cup and 3 years down the line when looking back so many things look suspicious.And today I read this article and it exactly explains my thought process yesterday..Kudos..By the way that book (Chinaman) was one of the best I have read.There are lot of clues on match fixing written in that..

  • POSTED BY Kaushik Arcot on | November 9, 2014, 13:25 GMT

    Sometimes, after reading such articles, we doubt our own existence and talent in this world. We feel that we are taking pleasure or absence of it from something that is already designed,which is upsetting. We also feel that we are dolls attached to threads, controlled by a few people who have anything but god in their suitcases, which boils our conscience. But these situations have no solutions. So it's much better we put our money on the game enjoy, be it "fixed", but still entertaining and thrilling.

  • POSTED BY Siddhartha on | November 3, 2014, 14:35 GMT

    Lovely article this. The "Acceptance" part is hilarious to the core and actually quite true. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

  • POSTED BY Naveen on | November 3, 2014, 7:50 GMT

    Nice reading and it pinches all around the body a lot as whether 'that game' was really that dramatic or thrilling...etc. The writeup really enlightens a lot and I hope Shehan would keep up his wonderful style with real facts.

  • POSTED BY vijaya on | November 3, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    Very well written and thought provoking. Would love to see your more of your writings in Cricinfo. All the very best.

  • POSTED BY Jeewantha on | November 2, 2014, 16:07 GMT

    Wonderful article. Match fixing is indeed a strange affair. Though it is negative as a whole, it does add drama to the game. The thought that a match could be fixed gives the contest a whole new perspective. Was the outcome decided by Talent, Execution, Lady Luck and Skill or was it decided by a guy in a dark room couting piles of money? Fascinating stuff.

    I hope Shehan Karunathilaka becomes a regular writer for TCM and Cricinfo.

    Mr. Karunatilaka, if you are reading this, just know that a lot of fans are dying for new literature from you. Best of luck.

    - Jeewantha Bandara

  • POSTED BY waqas on | November 2, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    sublime piece of article! I would agree with Shehan its about time we realize the existence of match fixing and decide if its easy to swallow? or should we concentrate on finding another mode of entertainment in form of a sport