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

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

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