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Is their game up? Don’t bet on it

A bit strangely, charges of spot-betting against Pakistani cricketers brought to my mind Satyajit Ray’s Company Limited, a masterly study of ambition.

world Updated: Aug 30, 2010 23:49 IST

A bit strangely, charges of spot-betting against Pakistani cricketers brought to my mind Satyajit Ray’s Company Limited, a masterly study of ambition.

In the film, there is a sequence at a racing ground, featuring the hero and his sister-in-law. Mesmerised by the gracefully coursing horses, she asks the hero: “Can I play again?”

So that’s what gambling does.

For much of this summer, Pakistani bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif have terrified batsmen. Just as the heaving mass of race-horses seduced the sister-in-law in the film, so this duo thrilled cricket lovers with their unrelenting pace, their triumphs momentarily eclipsing charges of terrorism leveled against their state.

Commentators exulted over Amir, at 18 the youngest bowler to take 50 Test wickets. But on Sunday, veterans struggled to find answers when faced with news of the spot-betting scam.

Michael Holding, one of the most destructive fast bowlers, nearly broke down in tears talking about Amir, prompting host David Gower to announce a commercial break.

Mihir Bose, the former BBC sports editor, pointed to two problems that possibly fuel such behaviour. Betting is illegal and unregulated in Pakistan and thus, easily driven by black money. And Pakistani cricketers are paid a pittance in their nation.

But Farokh Engineer, the ex-Indian wicketkeeper, told me he was paid all of R250 for playing a Test match in his day. “Money just did not come into the equation – all that mattered to us was wearing the Ashok Chakra.”

On Sunday, the glory of playing was not uppermost in the minds of the players. As the team left the field, Pakistani spectators shouted abuses at the coach, the players, much like the protesters President Asif Ali Zardari faced in Birmingham for staying abroad while floods ravaged his nation.