The cricket-loving world has been turned upside down since news of the spot-fixing scandal broke late last Saturday.
The police and customs are making their inquiries. Pakistan’s government and high commission are closely involved in the proceedings.
Pundits have been up in arms calling for the rest of the tour to be called off. Punters are asking for their money back because they don’t trust the integrity of game.
Meanwhile, cricket authorities the world over are scrutinising events and trying to remain balanced. There are, after all, lots of potential liabilities and livelihoods at stake.
So, the remaining fixtures will go ahead. The implicated players were initially cleared to play, before they voluntarily pulled out due to the “mental torture” they’re enduring.
Only then, after five days of this, did the International Cricket Council, the international governing body, invoke its anti-corruption code to suspend just the three most-suspect players. The News of the World reported claims that seven were dirty.
Something doesn’t add up
The difficulty with this situation will be familiar to anyone who has had to deal with just about any communications crisis.
On the one hand, the authorities are bound by rules, the burden of proof and the principle of presumed innocence.
On the other hand, we have the court of public opinion, 24-hour news and the evidence before our eyes. We’re also absolutely, gut wrenchingly, incandescently outraged.
What we’re about to see unfold is worth watching, even for people that think cricket is a game played by two teams who stand around all day in confusingly similar white outfits not doing very much.
Quick decisions on few facts
In just about any crisis worth its salt, tough and lasting decisions have to be made quickly before the full facts are known or implications worked through.
These will often have legal implications and the lawyers, rightly (for it is their job) will make compelling cases to gather the facts and then decide. The costs of litigation can be high if mistakes are made.
The communicators will make their case too, but the costs they point to will inevitably be woollier. They’ll talk about reputation and the mood, news cycles and the balance of probability. All are judgement calls and don’t fit on a balance sheet.
With convincing arguments both ways, too often the hard decisions are too difficult to make, and so nothing meaningful is done. The problem may not go away, but nobody (particularly the decision makers) will end up on the wrong side of a law suit.
That could be the course this scandal is taking.
The illusive burden of proof
These decisions are all the trickier because the authorities have form in making weak, expedient stands in past scandals.
Some “life” bans have been overturned in the courts as restraints of trade. Others have been conveniently lifted within months. Others have, reputedly, not been imposed because nothing can be proved.
Nobody believes bans mean anything which just opens the doors to the next chancers who want to make some quick cash.
Even in this case, the initial line of investigation, conspiracy to defraud the bookies, looks suspect as the bookies in question run an illegal black market and are unlikely to come forward and complain.
Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and it will be tricky to prove any bets were placed, without which there is no case to answer.
On a level, the lack of action is understandable. It often is.
Remember this question though, next time indecision seems to be the way to go in the eye of a media storm: if cricket had a share price, what would it be doing now?