The strange scene I witnessed at Lord's

You have probably read enough about the Lord’s Test between England and Pakistan now. It is amazing what reams and reams of coverage are generated by a couple of apparently innocent no-balls.

Incidentally, I once bowled a no-ball at Lord’s and felt the full wrath of my seniors. It just happened to be the ball with which I had Geoff Boycott caught behind for what would have been a duck.

The rest of my Middlesex teammates were furious, and my father, who was watching and was always on at me about my no-ball habit, didn’t speak to me for three days.

A sportsman’s ultimate aim is to achieve the respect of his peers (and father). To feel a significant part of the team. But one of the less-documented aspects of the spot-fixing allegations is that the traditional respect of one’s elders in Pakistan society can be dangerously abused.

The language used on the telephone by the alleged fixer Mazhar Majeed to the 18-year-old Mohammed Aamer, while he was in bed, was reminiscent of the scene from the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ as the leader of a begging establishment treats his young recruits like scum.

The revelations, moreover, have made me look again at a strange scene I witnessed at Lord’s.

I had got to the ground early on Friday morning, sensing it could be Aamer’s day (there had been just 12 overs’ play the previous afternoon and England were one wicket down overnight).

I was intending to watch Aamer practice and then have a casual chat with him. Except that he didn’t practice. Instead, he and three other members of the Pakistan touring squad were strolling around the boundary.

They weren’t running, but walking and talking, while the rest of the Pakistan team practised elsewhere on the field. Odd. The other three were Mohammed Asif, Salman Butt and the coach Waqar Younis.

I went to approach Waqar to ask if I could have a quick chat with Aamer but he made it clear they were having a private conversation, so I kept my distance. I kept my eye on them though, imagining they were talking bowling tactics.

The particularly strange thing was they circuited the boundary three, maybe four times. I have never seen a group do that before. It doesn’t take that long to discuss how to take wickets (which, to be honest in those conditions required simply bowling straight and pitching it up as Aamer proved).

Butt, and Waqar, did a lot of talking. Asif and Aamer did a lot of listening. So, as a result, a lot of questions. Why weren’t the rest of the team involved, especially other bowlers? Why wasn’t it in the dressing room? Why so early in the morning? What was Waqar’s role? And, of course, what were they talking about?

It is amazing how subsequent events make you look at something you saw in a totally different light. It is easy, now, to imagine they were discussing the ‘arrangements’ for the day and what were the ultimate rewards (and risks).

Certainly, the impression was of the ‘masters’ (ie captain and coach) giving their subordinates their ‘orders’.

The extravagant extent to which Aamer overstepped the line suggested (a) he was totally committed to his alleged order because (b) he didn’t want to incur the displeasure of the people who had allegedly given him them.

Respect for one’s peers, or elders, is good. Total indoctrination is bad.

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