Forget fix claims, enjoy clean cricket
The biggest turnaround for cricket in recent times was the fact that the Pakistan team began playing to win again and not to lose as per the dictates of shadowy figures from the world of bookmakers and match-fixers. When Pakistan beat England 3-0 on the desert sands there was rejoicing around the cricket world, not because the world's top Test side was humiliated but because cricket's most tainted side began playing honestly to win again.
We would like to sincerely believe that nothing has changed since the mighty show of innate playing prowess - splendidly boosted by the ability of their bowlers to win matches - was put up by the much-maligned Pakistan players. Under Misbah-ul-Haq they are a reformed lot and it is in the interest of world cricket that it stays that way. It hardly matters if another bookmaker somewhere has boasted to undercover reporters of the power and reach of the fixers.
You can't cross the street in New Delhi without running into a bookie who knows someone who knows someone else who has said that someone else could spot or result-fix a game. So long as there are undercover reporters and so long as a medium exists to sensationalize these claims, such idle talk of connections to fix games will go on being aired. It is up to the game's regulators to keep vigilant and seal off any efforts of the underworld to compromise the game.
There is no reason to believe that the four teams in the Asia Cup will not always be playing to win. This level of the game is reported to be more secure and if it is ever breached there is a fair chance the security net would land the suspects and that investigators or undercover reporters would have credible evidence to be able to prosecute the guilty as it happened in the case of the three Pakistani spot-fixers and the English county cricketer, Mervyn Westfield.
Setting aside for a moment the fanciful tales of honey traps involving attractive Bollywood babes and great gamblers allegedly getting highly paid cricket stars to throw matches or fix a part of them, let us examine what the latest edition of the Asia Cup means to the teams. First, it has already been established that Pakistan is out on the field to win as it did against Bangladesh. An incipient threat was warded off by that great death bowler Umar Gul and the bigger contests ahead among the World Cup champion, runner-up and losing semi-finalist will define which two go on to meet in the final of 'the cup that counts.'
So reduced in circumstances is India that there is unusual pressure on the five-time champion to win some silverware. The Australian tour infused further sorrows on an underperforming team while Sri Lanka marched into the finals despite being hammered in the last preliminary league game. What gives India great hope is exactly that performance with the bat with which the Sri Lankans were brushed aside in a record run and bonus point chase.
Pakistan may have been humbled in the UAE ODIs because of their batting foibles. But in Dhaka, where the conditions favour the bat much more, Misbah's men too will be a major force. If the batsmen put the runs on the board, they have the bowlers to defend them. They have such mercurial cricketers like Shahid Afridi who can turn a match with an impact performance with bat or ball. The mystery spinners may not be a great force against fellow Asians but Saeed Ajmal is a quality bowler who can adapt well.
The Sri Lankans have huge injury worries to tend to. Such is the scheduling that no team on a tri-series visit to Australia can be free of fitness problems. Despite everything, the Lankans came close enough to winning the trophy and should certainly have done so after keeping the hosts down to a manageable total in the decider. A pity then that the Sri Lankan batting should come a cropper at such a vital juncture. Chasing on a used pitch is never a breeze but it did seem none of the seniors realized the importance of batting through once a lively start is made against a modest target.
There is no doubt in my mind that all four teams will be doing their best to win every game possible. For the Asians, fixing is no more an option after having seen three of their fellow players do jail time in the UK. This will probably be the cleanest Asia Cup in a long time, particularly because silly allegations have been aired once again putting down the whole Asian cricket environment as if it is no more a game here but a racket to make easy money in by fixing games or events. It is another matter that team India will be the keenest to win the cup in this field. There is far too much riding on this tournament for a team that cannot afford to fail any longer.
More about R Mohan
Ramaswamy Mohan, one of the country's leading cricket writers, fell in love with the game after watching his first Test match in 1960 as a 10-year-old. So fascinated was he with cricket that he dedicated his early life to becoming cricket correspondent of The Hindu, a post he held with acclaim for close to 20 years while reporting live 130 Test matches, five World Cups and over 300 One-Day Internationals. Having risen to Resident Editor at the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, he still remains a keen student of the game who follows the happenings in Indian cricket with a particular relish.
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