England’s celebrations were understandably muted on Sunday night. The players wore expressions of concern rather than overt satisfaction.
The spot-fixing allegations have made them question many incidents in the whole series, from dropped catches to erratic bowling to Pakistan batting collapses. The scandal is threatening to devalue their performances. “It does definitely take the gloss off our achievements,” said one.
The euphoria of a hard-earned victory is the thing that sustains sportsmen through their vicissitudes. The exhilaration of overcoming a stern examination to emerge victorious or to turn a precarious situation into a dominant one is the reward for days and weeks of preparation and aspiration, the banishing of self doubt and the determination to succeed.
To attain victory out of adversity transmits intense joy and contentment. To find that victory sullied is deeply unsatisfying and even depressing. Ricky Ponting admitted as much following speculation that Australia’s sensational win against Pakistan in Sydney was rigged. It devalues the players’ wholehearted commitment, making the achievement seem empty and worthless.
Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad will be particularly dismayed. Their remarkable stand of 332, occupying 96 overs – effectively more than a day’s play – is not only a world-record eighth-wicket partnership in Test cricket but also the second best at any level in the history of the game. It is behind only the 433 put on by the legendary Victor Trumper and A Sims for A Sims Australian XI v Canterbury at Christchurch in 1913-14. It was Broad’s first hundred in any senior match too, but he is now questioning whether it has real credibility.
Broad must try to recall the difficult circumstances he had to contend with. The ball was still bending around awkwardly when he came to the wicket and the bowling was challenging with Mohammad Amir at the higher end of his pace range, and Mohammad Asif relatively fresh. There were no transparently loose balls (or no balls) and he had several narrow escapes.
The Pakistanis attempted several times to prise Trott from his intense bubble of concentration with well-aimed comments, but found it impenetrable. His immaculate accumulation deserved greater recognition than it actually got. Trott and Broad’s 6½ hours of purposeful resistance was a monumental feat of endurance. They must remember that.
There is less anger, more shock inside the England camp at the allegations. The players – well recompensed of course – do not comprehend why an opponent would jeopardise so much for any reward, irrespective of how little or how much. Allowing anything to compromise their performance is just not in their psyche. In 30 years of playing and covering professional cricket I have never met an English player who suggested they ever would.
There was some sympathy for Amir – who, with Salman Butt, was the only Pakistani not to leave the dressing room to shake the England players’ hands after the game. One or two of England’s younger players had played against him at junior level and described him as ‘a really nice lad’. They could not imagine him giving anything less than total commitment. But then again they can’t imagine the deprived circumstances of Amir’s upbringing either. Despite his precocious bowling, his wide-eyed excitement does at times resemble a kid let loose in a sweet shop.
There was less tolerance about the alleged behaviour of Asif and Butt. It is pretty clear the England players are not enthusiastic about playing the one-day series if either of them is in the Pakistan team.
However, the professional way that England went about polishing off victory in the fourth Test at Lord’s on Sunday after the revelations had surfaced, with not one provocative aside or gesture, suggests they would get on with the job if they were asked to.
There is still a lingering empathy with Pakistan’s plight. But it is fast running out.