To make your voice heard in the media you need to adopt one of two approaches - opinions delivered as earnest sincerity, or relentless cynicism that in its more charming guise morphs into affectionate flippancy.
The latest allegations, leveled this time at members of the Pakistan cricket team of match manipulation for the purpose of defrauding bookies, presents the most penetrating of challenges for me. Everyone likes to be certain of their opinion, hence the bombast of the phone-in callers armed with no concrete information but fuelled by the giddy high of self-righteousness.
Conversely my certainty has always been that cricket is a game; it’s fun and silly and beautiful and rich in fantasy but if you take terribly seriously the actions of 22 men cavorting around with sticks and balls within a highly choreographed, rule based and frankly very camp environment, observed by thousands of people laden with picnics, you really do need to get out a little more.
But every thought I have on the affair, from Salman Butt’s jacket in that photo to the ludicrously stage managed indoor presentation ceremony replete with hushed Gower commentary, is met by a force of sincere and earnest rage in me with which I am very unfamiliar.
To illustrate the mental turmoil that besets the would-be wit, here are four thoughts I’ve tried to have on the subject and the corresponding opinion to which I am truly attached.
The charge is that by throwing in no balls to order, the accused payers are defrauding bookies. If that isn’t a victimless crime I don’t know what is. Bookies never lose; that’s how they build huge businesses. And after all, the Pakistan players are the worst paid in the world. Surely they should get our support in the struggle of the underdog against the oppressor?
Well, no. They’re defrauding all the punters who quite reasonably didn’t expect Pakistan to bowl 68 no balls in the series. Or whoever has got a bet on there not being a no ball. And the players are better paid than nearly all their compatriots whom they represent on the field. By being caught they threaten the livelihoods of their fellow players who are not involved in fraud, since it is very likely that, if found guilty, Pakistan will play far fewer matches, with smaller attendances, attracting less money. Any form of international cricket being played in Pakistan is now ever more unlikely with the attendant loss of revenue for everyone from rickshaw drivers to pavement food sellers, to hoteliers and so forth. The victims are legion and mostly poor, the beneficiaries of fraud are all, without exception, already wealthy.
But you’ve got to love the orgy of speculation and conspiracy theorizing that attends these “outrages”. Suddenly everyone thinks they know why Yousuf was banned, fingers are pointed at all and sundry, forums are ablaze with groundless accusations. Disproportionate grief and disgust is expressed by a mountain of maniacs. That has to be quite funny doesn’t it?
No. That’s what’s so outrageous about the alleged actions. Every cricketer now wonders whether he was right to feel elated about that wicket or that century. And not just against Pakistan. These allegations will result in official scrutiny of hundreds of matches and unofficial reflection by fans and players that could undermine the experiences of fans (many of whom will simply stay away from now on) and the professional career choices of thousands of players who will wonder what the hell they were doing for 15 years.
That presentation ceremony, though, you have to admit that was bizarre. Like watching old footage of half dead Russian premiers being dragged from hospital beds to cast a vote for themselves in fake elections.
Maybe it was bizarre, but in the most horrific of ways. If the crowd want to boo Amir they should have been allowed to. These allegations are all about secrecy, about somebody being in the know to the detriment of thousands of fans being taken for a ride. So what happens? They go scuttling into the Long Room, shuffling and mumbling their way through a stilted stage managed farce rather than face the music in a sprit of glasnost.
Surely the ODI series will be hilarious. If Pakistan suspend everyone whose name is associated with the allegations they won’t be able to put a team out. Is there enough time to organize a cricket style X factor with club players of Pakistani origin from around the UK auditioning for the vacant roles of no balling pace bowler, a keeper and a couple of batsmen for good measure?
The ODI series will either be cancelled - at a cost of £12million to the ECB which constitutes half its current reserves - or a load of matches will take place in an at best eerie atmosphere, at worst a down right hostile one. What’s to like about that?
Despite the nonsense about Lord’s hallowed turf, and the hyperbolic references to treachery and betrayal, on every count I find myself siding, on this occasion, with the outraged, the earnest and the sincere. For that, more than anything, I should be counted among the victims.