Fixing: a nasty parasite
Over a week has passed since the spot-fixing court decisions and sentences. I hadn’t expected to be writing about it now (after all, there has been some on-field action very worthy of comment this week). But gaining some distance has brought me to an understanding: that this parasite on cricket may take down a few individuals but cannot do lasting harm to the species.
When the story reached its crescendo, I wanted to write about my experience of that day at Lord’s – one of the most memorable of many I have spent there – and reassess Trott’s knock. I wasn’t inspired to write about my contempt for the cheats and the system they operated in, or about the soundness of the justice that they had now confronted. That was being done so very well, anyway, by the Third Man and Eye on Cricket, amongst others.
Cheating to lose or to under-perform is recognised as a particularly insidious form of sports corruption. It denies the spectator and other participants the essence of the event: a contest. I concur. Where my thoughts are taking me is towards the question of whether it can be a sustainable crime. And I don’t believe it can; at least not in a sport where the majority are competing. A sport where the majority are not competing isn’t, of course, a sport.
Fixing can only be marginal to a game like cricket. Marginal in the sense of having an influence on trivial events such as no-balls, or unimportant contests, such as the bloated ODIs of the 1990s. There will be occasional larger victims – South Africa v England at Centurion in 1999/2000. It is the competition within the contest that keeps the parasite at bay.
For a compromised cricketer to earn his fixing bung, he must underperform – either directly as a player, or as the leader of a team. For the compromised cricketer to be of value to his master, he must keep his place in the team or continue to be seen as the best leader for the side. I do not see how players or captains can achieve both over any length of time. The larger the return, more daring the fix demanded, the greater the player must be putting his place in the team in jeopardy for performance reasons, let alone the risk of exposure. The fixer has to be always recruiting, always paying players to be cannon fodder.
I don’t pretend that there hasn’t been a lot more fixing going on than has so far been aired. I may have paid money to sit through some of it. I will probably have devoured misleading accounts of achievements finessed. It is an affront to the game I love. So I place my trust in the competitive environment to keep fixing at the margins, probably never destroy it, but make it mostly, usually an irrelevance. On the whole, a nasty parasite, not the greatest danger cricket faces.
Anyway, at some point last week, Australia were 21-9.