James Lawton: Cricket has failed in its duty of care to Mohammad Aamer and Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen dropped and tweeting his self-pity, Pakistan's fledgling superstar Mohammad Aamer on the edge of career destruction – what happened to cricket's brave and opulent new world?
It got too rich, too sloppy and too oblivious to the dangers building around its head.
The situations of Pietersen and Aamer are different, of course. Pietersen has merely forgotten how to bat while, in Aamer's case, it is the difference between right or wrong that has been forgotten, if he was ever taught it. But if we have two separate diseases, we surely have the same source of infection.
It is cricket's failure of care. The rulers of the English game, having retreated from the ludicrous proposition that he was captaincy material, have largely allowed Pietersen to operate on his own terms and pursue his own priorities.
They have not included the requirement of the greatest performers in any sport of regular exposure to the hard edge of proper competition. A lion in the nets and the Twenty20 pyjama game, Pietersen has eroded as a front-line Test batsman to the point where the Aussies are anticipating, if he does make the trip Down Under, a somewhat puddled pussycat, rather than the giant of The Oval in 2005 and the most serious obstacle to their subsequent Ashes whitewash.
Pietersen, though, is cricket's passing problem. Superstars rise and fall, and how they combat their decline is essentially a matter for them – and their competitive character.
Aamer's crisis represents something much more insidious. It is about the seduction of a beautiful, youthful talent, wrecked almost before it began to entrance the cricket world.
Nothing this week has been more depressing than the clatter of International Cricket Council officials and their anti-corruption officers and Pakistan Cricket Board time-servers into London. If they were the Seventh Cavalry, it is doubtful whether they would have successfully boarded a Mississippi ferry boat. All of them are talking about the most draconian reaction to proof of guilt, which means life bans.
The emphasis is wrong, especially in the case of Aamer. Of course, he must answer for any crime he has committed, but we have not yet had any inkling of a wider search for responsibility. Who was in charge of this youth? Who allowed him to be bullied by senior team-mates and the self-proclaimed match-fixer who felt free to call him in his hotel room late at night and address him by way of an obscenity? Who was looking after Aamer? Who was on duty for the good name of cricket?
Already discussed here is the Olympian disdain displayed by Giles Clarke, chairman of the English Cricket Board, to the hangdog boy at a ceremony at Lord's on Sunday, and the comparison it made with the rapturous greeting given to Sir Allen Stanford when he landed his helicopter at Lord's and flourished $20m on his way to indictment for a multi-billion-dollar fraud.
This is the culture which now generates earnings, directly from cricket, approaching the million-pound mark for big names like Pietersen and Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar, which stages telephone- number auctions for the most eye-catching of the talent heading for the Indian Premier League, the biggest counting house in the game, and then hands the stars of impoverished Pakistan an average of £22,000 a year.
And all the time the illegal betting culture which brought down Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin, captains of South Africa and India, and sparked scores of half-cocked investigations, had its emissaries alighting like flies on a meat stall in a street bazaar.
Aamer appears to have been handed into their unscrupulous care as though he was indeed just another piece of fresh meat.
In all the fallout this week, nothing has been more shocking than the suggestion of the controversial Australian umpire Darrell Hair that anti-corruption operators had voiced their suspicions that Pakistan were bowling no-balls to order as long ago as 2000. Hair delivered a withering kicker, saying, "Maybe the Anti-Corruption unit should be disbanded and News of the World hired to do the investigations." That is maybe the voice of an embittered maverick but his essential point is surely beyond dispute.
Cricket is awash with money but denuded of anything like moral leadership and the result is a crisis of confidence that can only deepen this side of some dramatic statement of acceptance that the current drift cannot go on.
Pakistan is at the heart of the current disaster and reaction there is ferocious in its shame. However, it is one thing for the ICC – and the Pakistan government – to talk of ruthless punitive action now the rottenness is exposed, but quite another to install a wider sense of responsibility and perhaps even a little more equity in the matter of rewards operating on the wrong side of the game's poverty line. The fact that some of the IPL's stars can earn more for delivering a single over than Aamer and his finely gifted team-mate, and fellow defendant, Mohammad Asif, can receive for their performance in a tumultuous Test match is an imbalance that has already made a poisonous contribution to the crisis.
But these are the details of a moral collapse. The core of it is that failure to exert proper leadership – and example. Imran Khan, the great icon of the Pakistan game, surely has a role to play – so do other big and unsullied names, both at the battered heart of the storm and in all corners of a game which, at the moment, has so much more wealth than wisdom.
The great clarion call these last few years has been to generate ever-rising income. There is a new imperative and it is one that yesterday also reached out to Kevin Pietersen. Recently, he claimed he had become a new man with new values nourished by the warmth of family life. But he must wonder what happened to the old batsman, just as cricket must speculate on where it has gone wrong.
Maybe for Pietersen there has been too much money, too much ease and, for the fallen of Pakistan, not nearly enough to ward off the blandishments of the bad men. Some time, very soon, cricket has to bridge the gap. Or lose its point.