Greg Baum sensed something was rotten about the Sydney Test in January, 2010, but his column was withheld on legal advice. Last week three Pakistan cricketers were jailed for spot-fixing during a Test in England, and evidence suggests corruption was not confined to that game. Today the column was published as an example of the suspicion that could not be aired then, but now cannot be suppressed.
THERE is a question about the way the Sydney Test ended that has to be asked. It is a question that has already been asked in bars, back rooms and on websites, a question that you can be sure the International Cricket Council is asking. It is a question you’ve probably asked yourself. It is a question colleague Peter Roebuck asked obliquely on Thursday (January 7, 2010) when he wrote: ”A team trying to lose could hardly have played any worse.”
Overnight, Australia was 8 down and 80 ahead. Yet for all of the 2½-hour morning session on the last day, Pakistan appeared to do no more than spread its field wide and wait for either Mike Hussey or Peter Siddle to get out. For Hussey, it made some sense. For Siddle, for hours at a time, it made less. For both, it made none. Siddle, said Brad Haddin, was the perfect foil for Hussey because he ”had no shots”.
Yet sometimes Siddle took block with men on the fence at deep point and deep square leg. He was unlikely to hit to one or the other. He was NEVER going to hit to both. ”We had to stay defensive with Hussey,” said Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf. ”Siddle ended up playing well, scoring 40 runs. We didn’t realise he could”. After two hours, they knew it. Yet still nothing changed.
Yousuf had gained something of a reputation in this series for flair in captaincy. On most fielding days, he was more likely than Ricky Ponting to station a third slip. Now, though, he was content to play cat and mouse. It rarely works, even for good teams. It didn’t work again. Yet still Yousuf persisted. Tactically, it was baffling. Then there were the catches. Kamran Akmal dropped four. One, you might say, was unlucky, two careless, three culpable. Four and you might be forgiven for looking for another explanation. Ian Healy had one of a sort for the first three – when a left-hander is facing a spinner, he tends to pick up his bat into the face of the wicketkeeper, unlike a right-hander. Akmal’s first three fumbles all came with Hussey facing Danish Kaneria, but the fourth was a sitter, Siddle gloving seamer Umar Gul to leg, Akmal had time see it and not far to move yet he butchered the chance.
Keepers are preceded by their reputations. Akmal first appeared in Australia five years ago and made a strong impression with bat and mitts. ”A magnificent showing with the gloves,” recorded Cricinfo. In the next two years, he ”maintained a high standard”. Later, his form slipped. But nothing about him in the first 1½ Tests here suggested anything less than a competent Test match wicketkeeper and it was not as if the pitch was dicey or even difficult.
Prim a facie, Pakistan’s subsequent collapse could be explained: It was demoralised, Australia was rampant, the target was tricky. Pakistan’s aggressive beginning looked to be right, strategically. But no adjustment was made, even as the wickets fell. Only two can say categorically that the ball was too good. The rest hit out and got out. Teenager Umar Akmal alone should be spared some sympathy for his slog, knowing the paltriness that followed.
Ponting said he was not surprised because such a middling target acted as a taunt when the wickets began to tumble, and because his team by then had the moral advantage. No team in the world could have resisted Australia in those circumstances, he said. A year ago, South Africa chased 183 in the fourth innings at the MCG, and got them for the loss of one wicket.
So, questions arise… THE QUESTION arises…
Cricket is in a state of seemingly constant flux. The dynamics are changing, formats and competitions shaping and reshaping. Some might be tempted to think that in the general mayhem, no one is watching. Two age-old blights resurfaced in headlines this week: Match – Fixing and Ball – Tampering.
Vigilance cannot be relaxed even for a minute. It is not enough to say that a particular team, player or captain had seemed so unlikely; it was said too often before.
It might be the question that cannot be asked in as many words, but for the sake of Pakistan, for the sake of Australia, for the sake of the integrity of Test cricket, it must be answered.
This article was originally published in “The Sydney Morning Herald” on 5th November 2011 here.