Ye gods. How far back does this go? Is it possible, on that famous occasion when WG Grace calmly replaced the bails with a nod and a wink to the umpire, and some fatuous comment about the wind having blown them off, that the bloke in the white coat (“quite right, Doctor, quite a gust what? Right arm over, three to come’.”) was actually in the pay of some shady underground bookmaker in Delhi?
Who knows whether there were several million rupees being wagered on a century from the original bearded wonder? So perhaps, with what grainy footage that remains somewhere in the MCC archives, we should delve back into the mists of time to examine which of all those memorable achievements in this great game should stand as unimpeachably certified as kosher, and which ones should be accompanied by a footnote of shame. Good grief. The next 2011 Wisden Almanack may yet contain more asterisks than the population of China.
With England, meanwhile, about to embark upon their latest tour of Australia, it may now be appropriate to look back with a slightly more jaundiced view of the circumstances surrounding their last successful Ashes mission down under, in 1986-87. You may or may not recall that the events leading up to the triumphant first Test in Brisbane did not so much suggest that Mike Gatting’s side were an unstoppable, well-oiled cricket machine, as a bunch of incompetent dilittantes barely able to give a decent game to the Toowoomba Girl Guides 2nd XI.
So bad were they in the Test series build-up, in fact, that some hapless scribe (asterisk No 1 – it was me) reported back to the mother country that despair was not quite the order of the day as there were only three departments in which they might be justifiably described as useless. However, as these departments were a) batting b) bowling and c) fielding, there was at least a minor cause for concern.
The unsuspecting hack was publicly humiliated by having to have his photograph taken with various grinning English cricketers wearing “Can’t Bat” T-shirts, and was hooted and jeered at by large, red-faced, pot-bellied men carrying Fred Rumsey Travel bags every time he set foot on a cricket ground.
The poor wretch was even forced into wearing a false beard and dark glasses for fear of being recognised, and the only member of the England side to show compassion was Ian Botham, who took him on a no-hard-feelings night around the pubs and bars of Sydney. The upshot of which was that he spent the next three days in hospital undergoing a liver transplant.
Now, though, in the light of new evidence recently un-earthed, our unfairly vilified reporter may be allowed to take his rightful place in the pantheon of prescient cricket scribes, alongside such luminaries as Swanton and Woodcock. Was it co-incidence, for example, that the giant pork pie discovered in Gatting’s kitbag came at a time when this master batsman failed to make it to the ground in time for the toss in a state game in Melbourne, claiming that his alarm clock had failed to go off? Anyone in possession of the knowledge that John Emburey would be flipping the coin instead that morning could easily have cleaned up.
And how about that case of champagne delivered to David Gower’s door on the morning of the game against Western Australia in Perth? The odds against Gower playing and missing to six consecutive balls to some modest medium pacer by the name of Ken MacLeay must have been astronomical, and Gower’s subsequent claim that his form that day was merely the result of another Botham night out frankly doesn’t stack up.
And come to think of it, what about Gower’s role in the curious game against Queensland in Carrara on the next tour in 1990-91, when two Tiger Moths – piloted by Wing Commander Gower and his trusty batman John Morris – buzzed the ground in mid-game. England, on that tour, truly were a Flying Circus, and yet – thanks largely to the home team being reduced to a state of helpless giggling (especially when they discovered that Gower had paid the pilot with money borrowed from tour manager Peter Lush) – England won. Suspicious or what?
There was another match in 1986-87 which now makes you wonder about its probity. England were playing in Kalgoorlie, in a one-day game against a Western Australian XI, and, as is usually the case at one of these up-country venues, the bloke on the tannoy had been waiting four years for his big day and the opportunity to blather into a microphone for the entire duration of the game.
The Country XI’s opening bowler was a chap by the name of Norman Gale, whose run-up began – or would have done had the West coast of Australia not been separated from Asia by a large expanse of water – in Singapore. This gave the MC plenty of time, with Norman steaming down the runway to deliver the first ball of the match, to yell over the loudspeaker: “And here comes Stormy Gale, hoping to put the wind up the Poms!”, little suspecting that Stormy was about to lose his undercarriage in his delivery stride, be carried off with a ricked back, and play no further part in proceedings.
What, though, was not considered at the time was whether Stormy’s unfortunate accident might have been due to a deliberate attempt to overstep the front crease by several feet. Who knows who might have stood to profit had Norman only managed to remain upright and deliver a first ball no-ball?
However, I myself remain convinced that this whole business of fixing in cricket is but a figment of people’s imagination, a total stitch-up by the gutter tabloid press, and a grubby insult to the integrity of the game. I formed this opinion while recently dining with the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Mr Ijaz Butt, at his home in Lahore, despite the fact that he spent the entire meal dribbling down his bib, which I put down to some kind of eating disorder. Certainly, there was nothing in his deeply considered comments which led me to believe he might be away with the fairies.
“Frankly,” he told me over coffee and mints “this whole business is an imperialist plot, and I can tell you now that when Mohammad Aamer bowled that ball from 12 yards it was because the devious England non-striker had cunningly moved his marker disc without anyone noticing.
“Furthermore, in that game when the opposition’s No 11 scored 36 to win off the final over, the fact that it was bowled by the wicketkeeper was actually an astute tactical move which only failed to come off because”.”
We’ll never know, sadly, because at this point a man with a white coat, entered the room, applied a syringe to Mr Butt’s upper arm, and said: “Sorry about that. We’ve been trying to recapture him since Thursday, but he’s pretty harmless once he’s had his injection.”
Late news: 28th one-day international at The Oval, starting tomorrow 2pm. Pakistan won by one wicket.