Friday, March 23, 2007

Murder in cricket

This sounds like a title of an Inspector Morse novel. Colin Dexter managed to conjure an impressive number of homicides in the peaceful Oxfordshire countryside, and at first glance the world of cricket has around it a similar air of tranquility; green lawns, tea & scones, and good manners. Not so much about fierce, bloodthirsty competition but gentlemanly rivalry and mutual respect.

Alas, the headline is from today's news. The head coach of Pakistan's World Cup Cricket team, Bob Woolmer was found "lifeless" in his hotel room in Kingston, Jamaica, on Sunday. This former England international later died in the hospital. The police was at first unable to determine the cause of death, but has today announced (or yesterday evening local time) that he was in fact murdered, strangled by probably more than one person.

In the ongoing Cricket World Cup, Pakistan crashed out after two defeats, the latter one to cricket minnows Ireland. Pakistan losing to Ireland would be about the same as if Estonia would beat Argentina in the football World Cup, or if Canada were to lose an Olympic ice-hockey match to Denmark and be left outside the top 8 for that. That was a major upset for Pakistan, a country that is fanatic about cricket. As a result of this defeat, the captain and some key figures in the Pakistan's cricket council had resigned. The death of head coach was of course a shock, not only to the Pakistani team but to the whole cricketing world. But that was only an ouverture to the shockwave that engulfed the community after the police announced their findings.

Whodunnit? Of course, at this stage speculation is rife, with all the international media trying to beat each other to the scoop. Why did they do it? This, of course is the key question here. They think it was related to cricket, but not to the performance of his team in this World Cup, but perhaps what he was going to do after his contract was to end later this year.

Where there is exciting sports, there is money. Where there is money, there are jackals. And as in football, horse racing and many other sports, money, betting and media have brought with them not only professionalism but also corruption. In 2000, some players were banned for life from all cricket, after it transpired that they had been involved in match fixing. The head honcho then was the captain of the South African team, Hansie Cronje (who later died in a plane crash at only 32 years of age), also some players from the Pakistani and Indian teams were implicated. Bob Woolmer was the South African head coach from 1995 to 1999, and I suppose if match fixing was commonplace, he'd know something about it.

In fact, he had indicated that the next thing he was going to do was to write his memoirs, and in those reveal a thing or two about the dark side of cricket. The focus of the search for killers is thus (or so the speculations go) in international gambling rings and not in fanatic Pakistani fans (and has actually never been). Of course the fans' reaction was strong, and they were showing the full range of emotions, but before the shock of losing to a midget had properly sunk in, the bad news about Woolmer reached the nation, and all of a sudden scores and results lost all meaning. Pakistan were to play one more game in the World Cup, and they "won it for Bob". This was before the murder-news broke. All the members of the team have been questioned for clues and information, but not as suspects. The team is flying home this weekend.

Meanwhile, the police hunts for the killers under the watchful eye of, well, pretty much everyone in the world who follows cricket. The World Cup is going forward, but the game will face turmoil for a while. It is also sure that this World Cup will not be remembered for it's sporting excellence, no matter how great the remaining games will be.

There is a larger issue here. The editor of, Sambit Bal wrote a scarily good column, titled "It's only a game" about this. In India, cricket is the biggest sport, and the fans even more fanatic than in Pakistan, there is a lot of money in this sport there and the global TV-deals are lucrative because of the Indian market. The scary bit here is that mutatis mutandis, this could be a column by a British columnist about football...

(Pic: BBC)

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