Cricket, for so long known as the ‘gentleman’s game’ and held up as a shining example of the virtues of sportsmanship and magnanimity, is a sport in crisis. 2015 saw the sport rocked by the kind of scandals more commonly associated with football: match fixing, corruption, and a series of accusations against some of the most powerful figures in the cricketing world.
With these staggering blows against its reputation, two questions seem to stick in the mind. What is driving this sudden deluge of scandals, and can cricket’s reputation as the ‘gentleman’s game’ ever truly recover?
One aspect of modern cricket to which many attribute blame for the current wave of scandals is the influx of money brought in by the immense popularity that Twenty20 has accrued seemingly overnight. The Indian Premier League has been at the forefront of the rise of T20 cricket and it has been a near endless source of scandal and disrepute ever since its inception. Despite this, the IPL has had incredible success, both commercially and in terms of on-pitch achievements, and this has brought with it the inevitable tides of bookmakers, betting agents and, sadly, match fixers.
Of course, match fixing has a fairly lengthy historical relationship with cricket, perhaps most notoriously in the case of former South African captain Hansie Cronje. However, there is no question that the new era of T20 cricket has provided an added financial incentive for those who seek to cheat the rules, with much more opportunity given the huge range of factors that can be bet upon.
The potential for players and officials to make huge sums of money by engaging in corrupt practices inevitably tempts more and more individuals to make the step into illegal activities. With the increasing amounts of money involved, the temptation only grows for the individuals involved, and as a result we see more and more of these type of scandals emerging and dealing blow after blow to cricket’s global reputation.
At this point, it is not likely that there will be a return to the days of yesteryear, when cricketers were gentlemen who conducted themselves in that way both on and off the field. Nowadays, we have the likes of Australia’s David Warner punching opponents in bars, New Zealand’s Jesse Ryder getting into bar fights and, admittedly on a much more trivial level, England’s Ben Stokes ruling himself out of cricket for months after punching a locker in his team’s changing room. Cricketers are no longer the paragons of virtue that some fans might like to believe they are.
This is not a new phenomenon; once it is remembered that legendary England all-rounder Sir Ian Botham once served a ban from the game for smoking marijuana, it becomes apparent that this idealised view of cricketers is little more than a fantasy. The problem stems from the worrying number of incidents that go beyond the metaphorical line in the sand, crossing over into criminal acts.
It is true that some cricket fans do not like to see their cricketing heroes indulging in wild nights out, getting in fights, being openly aggressive on field or, in the case of a particularly foolish West Indian batsman, failing to act with any degree of professionalism while representing his team.
However, sports fans love a character. The most beloved names in sporting history are generally described as characters: Paul Gascoigne, Sir Viv Richards, Tiger Woods. None of whom you are likely to hear described as the perfect gentleman, but all much loved sporting heroes.
Cricket’s reputation will most likely never be the same; there have been too many scandals and the game has irrevocably changed. Whether this is for better or worse is open to debate. However, what is not open to debate is the fact that, regardless of whether cricket is still the ‘gentleman’s game’, it is now one of the most engaging sports on the planet.
Image courtesy of NAPARAZZI