We live in a world of skeptics, those with souls so broken, so marred with corruption, that they have forgotten what it is to believe. There is no magic, only trickery; no purity, only illusions. We are so determined to spot the conspiracy we are unable to truly appreciate anything at face value. Cricket is no different. For years there has been speculation, matches have been fixed, culprits have been caught and, as the money in cricket keeps increasing, so do the doubts around what used to be a sport for the obsessive.
During the group stage of the World Cup this year, there was a WhatsApp message that went viral. The message declared the fate of every team, match and the victors of the trophy, designed to save us the trouble of watching what would essentially be eight-hour movies seeing that the endings had already been decided. Perhaps the 2010 spot-fixing scandal left us too disillusioned, maybe the IPL corruption has silenced our faith … cricket hasn’t been the coy virgin for the longest time.
Since 2010, all I have ever heard is speculation – that every umpire has been bought and every Akmal brother is a ringleader. When Pakistan win, it’s sheer luck; when we lose, it’s because we’re sellouts. When Bangladesh lost to India, it was that no-ball to Rohit Sharma that caused an outrage – even Mustafa Kamal, the ICC president, questioned the integrity of the umpires.
Throughout the World Cup, I had to endure the director of my company announcing that he knew the result of every match based on the ‘odds’. I met friends who said an India v Pakistan semifinal was inevitable because that would be good business sense on the part of the International Cricket Council. The day Pakistan beat Ireland, I had a fellow journalist message to inform me that Pakistan would win against Australia only to lose to India, who would eventually win the World Cup. India are still in the running, Pakistan took the early exit.
I am naïve. Innocent in my sheer belief that not every player is bought, that national pride is not a thing of the past yet, that despite the gambling, the Big Three and everything else, cricket still has a little bit of magic left. I witnessed that euphoria when Wahab Riaz bowled to Shane Watson. I could feel the desperation of the crowd in New Zealand in the game against South Africa. AB de Villiers’s tears were not staged. These are not actors working with a script; these are athletes who have dedicated their lives to this sport and to doubt their intention is an insult beyond measure. These are individuals who often sacrifice the birth of their children to provide is with that little glimmer of hope in what is otherwise a tough life.
I live in a country that breathes cricket. A country that believes trophies can heal any kind of damage, an over-populated nation that buried bats the day Pakistan tragically lost to West Indies and held funeral ceremonies in rage and grief. To watch cricket is to give yourself over to the sport in all its entirety. It’s a marriage, a promise to accept flaws and yet believe there is enough good to keep the relationship going. What has happened to the fans of this game that they must now stoop to checking gambling sites instead of reading match previews to predict a winner? Like any another facet of life, there will always be the Salman Butts and Sreesanths around, but this constant attack on the game is poor repayment to a sport that has given us so much more to hold on to.
Whether India or Australia walk away with the trophy or New Zealand finally attain glory, it will not be money or corruption that will decide what happens, but the hysteria and desperation that comes once in four years that will glue the tiny cracks, mending cricket’s broken spirit.