Friday, 4 November 2011

Cricket Spot Fixing Scandal: Jailing of Cricketers is Stupid

There was a time when I used to watch cricket avidly. That was years ago. Players like Vivian Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Botham, and Malcolm Marshall, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were my heroes, were players I enjoyed watching.

Over the years, however, I have gone off cricket. That is not because I was disillusioned with the stories of match-fixing scandals that started coming out, periodically, in the past ten years, usually (though not exclusively) involving players from the Indian subcontinent.

I went off cricket because, as I became long in the tooth, I simply couldn’t summon up enough concentration to watch a game which (in test match cricket) went on for five days and still ended without a result, and the shorter version went on for a whole day. I simply don’t have the stamina. (That does not however mean that I can cope with games which are of shorter duration, for example Football. I can’t understand what is there to enjoy in a game where aggressive men with attentional deficits run about for ninety minutes, ostensibly trying to kick a ball into the nets at the opposite ends of the ground, but, really trying to kick opponents’ heads and testicle, trying to trip others up, doing, in other words, whatever it is that men with impulse control issues can think of—if the erratic firing of their maldeveloped brain cells can be called thinking—to inflict grievous body harm on one another. In the past I allowed myself, out of my inability to say No, to be kidnapped to some grotty pub, serving crap food and rough looking waitresses and clientele that, were they not busy shouting obscenities at the plasma screen showing a game between, say, Arsenal and Spurs, would probably be lighting up matches with their farts for a ‘bit of a laugh’. But not now; life is too short to watch Football.)

The only game these days I can bring myself to watch is women’s tennis, preferably when Maria Sharapova or Daniela Hantuchova is playing (and the camera is focusing on them from behind as they bend down to receive the serve of their opponents).

Earlier this year I watched the cricket world cup final with an Indian friend (who was terribly excited about it, which was understandable, as India had reached the final). I just about managed that but found it hard-going.

I therefore had not devoted my diminishing energies and concentration to the spot-fixing scandal involving a cricket match played between England and Pakistan last year.

Three Pakistani cricketers, one Butt and two Mohammads, fell foul of some ridiculous act that probably does not exist anywhere other than in Britain. One of the Mohammads accepted his guilt while the other two, including Butt (who was the captain of the Pakistan cricket team at the time) decided (unwisely, as it turned out) to contest the charges.

Both were found guilty of charges—which, couched in convoluted legal gobbledegook, essentially were that these guys are cheats—by a majority verdict.

The judge—who, going by the sanctimonious sermon he delivered to the condemned men, seems like a pompous ass—gave the cricketers length jail sentences.

Some sanctimonious pompous asses in the cricketing media, however, think that the sentences were not harsh enough. For example, Simon Hughes—a third-rate county cricketer and a second-rate analyst / commentator. This guy played cricket in the 1980s and was so shite that he was not considered good enough to play for England, which is saying something, as the English cricket team in the 1980s was so shite that practically every cricket-playing nation was wiping the floor with us. After his mediocre, undistinguished career came to an undistinguished end Hughes became a journalist and commentator. To say Hughes talks crap would be insulting faeces. He frequently poses as a technical analyst and bores everyone into catatonia by talking his head off about the position of the batter, the friction of the fabric of his trousers against his testicles, the angle of his bat, his grip on the handle of the bat, the distance between his hands and the surface of the bat, the wind velocity, the action of the bowler, the friction of the fabric of the trousers against his testicles, the condition of the ball, the time of the day, the number of clouds in the sky—all of which conspire somehow to bring into effect whatever it is that Hughes has been asked to provide his expert comment on. It might be a wicket or it might be a boundary—it does not matter; he talks the same shit. It is impossible to take him seriously. Hughes has now written an idiotic article, giving the readers the benefits of his wisdom, and has come up with a five point plan (which will be discarded by Boy Scouts and which suggests that the man has the intelligence of a gnat) to ‘stamp out cheats’.

The sentences are excessively harsh, unnecessary and stupid.

Let’s take the sentence handed down to Butt. The disgraced skipper of the Pakistani cricket team has gone down for 30 months; however, if his behaviour is ‘good’ he can come out after 15 months. He will then be on a license for the remaining 15 months of his sentence during which he will be monitored. The other two cricketers who have received shorter sentences (but still way too long) will also be out on license after serving half their sentences if they 'behave'.

None of the cricketers is a British citizen. Presumably they have no place to live in England, no means of subsistence, and no medical cover. All of these will have to be provided to them when they come out. Who will foot the bill? Why, the British tax-payers. I fail to see why British tax-payers have to foot the bill for something which is not even considered a crime in many countries. (On a different tack, this was also the argument, I remember reading, of Julian Assange the boss of WikiLeaks (which, rumour has it, is about to go bust due to lack of funds. The legal definition of statutory rape in the UK is apparently different from that in the Scandinavian countries).

Mind you, I am not blaming the poor Pakistani sods for this. I am pretty sure they did not want to be in this position. They did not come willingly to the UK to stand the trial; they were forced to come here and stand trial.

And what was their ‘crime’? They took money and Butt, the captain, instructed the two bowlers to bowl a no-ball each. When a bowler bowls a no-ball the side that is batting is awarded one run. What the trio were accused (and found guilty) of was therefore ‘spot-fixing’ and not ‘match-fixing’.

They were investigated by the cricket’s governing body and were handed out bans of between five to ten years. That should have been enough. There are those who are now criticising the International Cricket Control (ICC) of being too lenient and are demanding that the cricketers be banned for life. The camel-faced captain of the English cricked team, Andrew Strauss , has weighed in and described the ICC as toothless tiger. Strauss would do well to reduce his waist-line and score runs against quality oppositions instead of adding more hot air to environment.

Those demanding harsher punishment by the ICC are wrong. A life-ban would not have been justified in this case. There is no evidence that the actions of the cricketers adversely influenced the outcome of the match (which, I guess, would be more difficult to arrange in any case, as it would require involvement of several players in the team). There is not even evidence to suggest that their actions accorded significant advantage (or disadvantage) to their team or the English team. After all how much difference a single run can make? This is not to say that the cricketers did not do wrong. However, the punishment meted out must be proportional to the wrongdoing. And a life-ban for spot-fixing is way too excessive.

Similarly the argument that the time-limited bans should be converted to life-bans simply because they have been found guilty in a criminal court in a country and sent to jail is a straw man. The criminal court did not hear any evidence that was not available to the ICC. The three cricketers had to stand trial because their cheating is considered as criminal as per an act which came into existence in England in 2005. In some other country this type of cheating—because that’s what it is at the end of the day, no different, some might argue, from an athlete or a swimmer who takes banned performance enhancing drugs and deliberately changes the outcome of a competition in his or her favour; and they are not prosecuted—would not have been considered a criminal act. Why, even in our country, before 2005, it would not have been considered a criminal act.

And the sentences are totally disproportionate to the crime the cricketers have been found guilty of. This is a country where MP’s who were systematically defrauding the tax-payers for thousands of pounds for years were given jail sentences of only a few months. An old friend of mine used to work as a care-assistant in a hostel for homeless people, some or more of whom, he used to tell me, were pretty nasty pieces of work—persistent and prolific offenders with lists of criminal activities longer than M1. For their 15th GBH they would be sent to prison for 12 months, would come out on license after 6 and would be recalled for one night in prison after they had breached conditions of their license 5 times, and released out again so that they could get on with their daily routine of drug dealing and other nefarious activities. I did not see any of the cheating bankers in the City of London go to jail for their greed. But we have seen it fit to condemn three cricketers, some from impoverished backgrounds, to lengthy prison sentences.

Butt (that is an unfortunate name given the circumstances in which he now finds himself), Asif and Amir are most definitely cheats. Prosecuting them was way over the top. Their prosecution was waste of British tax payers' money and their conviction makes no sense.