Cricket: End of Pakistan's unsavoury tour can’t come fast enough
At around 10.15pm tonight — and everybody is counting — Pakistan's 13th tour of England will draw to a close.
The fifth and final one-day international will be done and dusted, the winner of match and series probably the side that calls the toss correctly and bowls second.
That it has got this far after weeks in which the game's reputation has been sullied almost by the hour is not to everyone's taste. But as Hugh Robertson, the Coalition sports minister, made clear yesterday this was no longer about mere sport.
“The point I made to the ECB, and I'm delighted they took it on board, is that whatever the irritation, upset and anger — and I understand all those — it is one of those things when cricket is more than just a game,” he said.
“Had the series been cancelled it would have had very serious implications to England-Pakistan relations not just in sport but across the piece. Pakistan have major issues to deal with such as the floods and terrorism and this was not the time for a country like us, whose role should be still to support them, to play any part in trying to kick them out.”
This is a Coalition, then, which positively discourages England's cricketers from playing Zimbabwe yet virtually insists that they play Pakistan. But whoever prevails at the Rose Bowl, somebody will ask a question, whether veiled or direct, about the probity of the proceedings. It used to be bad enough being involved in a batting fiasco and simply be considered inefficient at your job but to collapse and then be suspected of conspiring in your own downfall is much worse.
The last part of the tour has been conducted in an acrimonious air of unreality and the ECB undoubtedly feel grievously disillusioned with the country to which it extended a hand of friendship. Such depths have been plumbed that the captain of England, Andrew Strauss, is seriously contemplating legal action to ensure the maintenance of his good name.
Pakistan arrived in the country in late June as honoured guests.
They came first to play four matches — two Tests, two Twenty20s — against Australia. Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, was proud and happy to promote the cause and insisted that they would be welcome for other neutral matches next year and for the years to come.
Not now, not for a long time. The tour slipped headlong into cataclysm when match rigging allegations were made last month. Clarke made his feelings of rejection plain on the morning they were first published by declining to shake the hand and barely being able to look at one of the accused, the teenager Mohammad Aamer, as he presented him a man of the series award after the Fourth Test.
It was that Test in which Aamer and his fellow fast bowler, Mohammad Asif are alleged to have bowled no balls to order with the collusion of their captain, Salman Butt. All three have been suspended by the ICC while investigations are concluded but it does not look good for them.
The NatWest Series of one-day matches has continued uncomfortably. But the tour took another dreadful turn last Friday when, after the Oval one-day match, scoring patterns in Pakistan's innings were said to have matched a pre-arranged plan involving illegal bookies. Pakistan won the match by 23 runs.
Information was passed by the Sun newspaper to the ICC which felt it has no choice but to launch an inquiry. Since when, all hell has been let loose again. Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, conversely accused England's players of throwing the Oval match “for enormous amounts of money” and England almost called off the tour.
The one point that all agreed on is that the end cannot come too soon.