It hits me in waves and jolts that a captain who carried the renewed hopes of a nation in his leadership, a young cricketer who had the world at his feet, and a bowler whose artistry deepened my sense of joy and wonder for the game are now languishing in jail for abusing the same sport that they lit up so brilliantly. The sense of hurt and shame that has coursed through me since the jury returned their guilty verdict two days ago should be felt by everyone who loves cricket. The players were let down by their lack of character in the face of strong temptation, but also by a cricket board and culture that has long abused the gifts a wounded nation repeatedly throws at its feet. And what of the ICC and the wider cricketing fraternity, who have long looked out for their own interests first and ignored the urgent need for unity that a sport in peril so desperately requires? The BCCI solemnly condemns the actions of Pakistani cricketers, but does nothing to tackle the infecting betting rings that sit under its very own nose. England, India, South Africa and Australia are playing each other increasingly often in a ravenous attempt to maximise revenue, leaving the financially poorer nations to fend for themselves. Pakistani players are excluded year in, year out from the new wealth that has come into the game by way of the Indian Premier League. In such a climate, perhaps we should not feel as shocked as we do that this numbing saga has come to pass.
Two of the three guilty cricketers were poised to reanimate Test cricket with their brilliance for years to come – as they did, lest we forget, in England before their other activities came to light – and become heroes of the national and world games in the bargain. Instead, they will spend the next year of their lives in jail and the following four as fossilized human beings, rendered devoid of their natural calling by one self-inflicted wound too many.