Sunday, 29 August 2010

A hollow morning at Lord's

That was the most bizarre day of cricket, at any form or level I've ever seen.

Walking from Baker Street tube when St John's Wood is closed is never the most fun of activities, but the crowds on the way to Lord's were deathly quiet. Taking my seat in the Warner Stand, I looked around to see at least ten copies of the News of the World. Hardly the normal paper of choice for frequenters of Lord's. But this was not a normal day.

Pakistan started the day four down and 300 runs behind. They were always going to lose. But the result didn't seem to matter. Umpires Bowden and Hill took to the field. England followed them. Then came Pakistani batsmen Ali and Umar Akmal. Nobody quite knew what to do. The ever polite MCC members clapped them on. Was it tradition? Did they not know the story? The sparse crowds followed suit. I was the only audible boo.

Wickets fell regularly. England barely celebrated. It hardly registered with the crowd. There were a few boo's when Mohammad Amir walked to the crease, and a few people ironically called out no-ball for Jimmy Anderson's deliveries to Amir. He only lasted four balls before departing for a duck. He returned to silence. It may be the last time he ever appears on a cricket field.

All the while England were wrapping up the game and the series, rumours were flying around on Twitter. Salman Butt's done a runner. Gangsters have kidnapped Pakistani players families. Phones have been seized. The England players were trudging around in the field - seemingly shell-shocked. For a side winning so comfortably their behaviour was so unusual. Kevin Pietersen told Michael Vaughan that the news had "hit the players hard". It certainly looked it.

It had certainly hit the crowd hard. I was sat almost in the exact same seat as last year when England beat Australia at Lord's. Flintoff's five-for and all that. The atmosphere that day was spectacular, energy and excitement surging through the crowd. Today was everything but. England were winning, with the same level of impressive performance but there was a very different mood around Lord's.

Umar Akmal made fifty. Extravagant shot followed extravagant shot. All applauded meekly from the galleries. He even put on a fifty partnership with last man Mohammad Asif. Akmal was playing like a man knowing he may never get another chance. If implicated, he may not.

Swann took the last wicket, his fifth in the innings. It's the first time GP Swann will appear on the honours board. He sheepishly raised the ball to the crowd politely acknowledging England's series win. Perhaps Swann realised his name will go directly below Amir's.

The crowd did offer congratulations to England, who simply walked off the pitch. No celebrations. No unconcealed joy. Many of the crowd simply left their seats and went home.

I hung around for a bit, hoping for some gossip. Young autograph hunters were told they were wasting their time - no autographs today. The rumour that Salman Butt didn't even go the ground was gathering momentum. With no sign of a public presentation, I left.

Without wanting to sound cliched I feel cheated. Cricket feels cheated. Days 2 and 3 were the best two days of test cricket, but after last nights revelations, it all feels hollow. Nobody can trust that anything achieved on those days, or this series, or in cricket in general is above board and beyond reproach. People I've spoken to feel angry that the actions of a few can ruin the reputation of a sport. The hope must be that this is the end to revelations. If we are to believe Mazhar Majeed's boasting, this is only the start.

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