The Newlands ground is among the more picturesque venues across the cricketing world, situated almost at the base of the Table Bay mountain, which lends the ground its distinct character. It has a wicket which affords a generous amount of bounce and movement to the pacemen, making batting a difficult and challenging task.
The news that wickets were falling like ninepins on the second day of the first Test between Australia and South Africa came as no surprise. Being in a place where one had no access to TV, the scores were being relayed to us via SMS. That Australia had almost sealed the match by getting SA out for 96, to secure a lead of nearly 200 runs, lessened our curiosity, till someone shouted that Australia were 21 for nine. Disbelief was the natural reaction and tabs were once again kept on whether they’d be dismissed for the lowest total ever.
Not having watched the match, it was felt the wicket must be unplayable, though Australia's first innings score and Clarke's 151 defied that interpretation. The theory that the wicket may have been diabolically demonic was not supported either by the ease with which the hosts chased the target of 236 runs the next day.
It was all too confusing, and given the suspicious background in which the game is being played these days, eyebrows were bound to be raised. The next best thing to do was to watch the highlights package on TV, which made one realise that though the wicket was helping the bowlers, it was nowhere near being unplayable and some of the Aussie batsmen played atrocious shots to get out.
Cricket is being played under a shadow of suspicion and there is a lot of scepticism and lack of trust among spectators once again, since a few Pakistani players were convicted for spot-fixing. It is not anyone's case that any unusual collapse or a topsy-turvy phase of a game should be interpreted as evidence of a wrongdoing, yet no one should be blamed if doubts are raised.
Had the same thing happened in a game involving Pakistan or even India or Sri Lanka, one can well imagine the kind of press it would have got, especially in the non-South Asian world.
In Pakistan’s case, doubts get immediately transformed into conviction given their past record, but just to put the record straight, no cricket-playing nation has a record of innocence when it comes to “dubious” deals.
Sport by its nature is fraught with uncertainties and the greater the unpredictable course it follows, the stronger its appeal. That is what one would like to believe happened at the Newlands as the reports from South Africa suggest, where everyone has blamed the reckless Aussie batting for their “shameful” display.
But had Pakistan collapsed in a jiffy, or had the Indians been involved, all hell would have been raised, unlike now, where every dismissal, every action in the middle has been described from a cricketing logic.
In the eyes of the developed world, the sub-continental world has a stereotypical image, the strong components of which are greed for money and lack of integrity. The fact that not a single report of this match has raised even mild doubts that something could be amiss just shows that the same yardsticks of “objectivity” are not applied when it comes to interpreting “them” and “us”.
Isn’t this a plain case of hypocrisy and duplicity?