Cricket Flap Erupts Between England, Pakistan

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A heated dispute stemming from a cricket match between England and Pakistan has resulted in headlines in both countries. After the Pakistan team was accused of having scuffing the ball, it didn't emerge from its clubhouse before an Australian referee forfeited the match to England. Robert Siegel talks with Simon Barnes, chief sportswriter for the Times of London.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now some cricket vocabulary. A test match is an international multi-day event pitting two national teams, for example England versus Pakistan. A bowler is the cricket equivalent of a pitcher. Ball tampering in cricket is roughly equivalent to a pitcher tampering with a baseball. A scrape here, a nick there could make the ball that much harder for a batsman to hit.

Which brings us to the current ethical crisis in cricket, which might be the equivalent of a doping scandal in cycling or track and field, if only anyone actually believed in the integrity of cycling or track and field. It all involves the England/Pakistan Test match, which Simon Barnes of the London Times was covering, and today would still have been covering but for the allegation of scandal and an indignant response to it.

Now Mr. Barnes, what happened?

Mr. SIMON BARNES (Sportswriter, London Times): It began when the umpire, Darrell Hair(ph), from a neutral country, from a third country, decided that the condition of the ball had been interfered with by people on the Pakistan side. But the problem with ball tampering is it's not just like accusing somebody of being a bit naughty or of having mistimed a tackle or have just sneaked a slight advantage, pinched half a yard here or something. What it is in fact is an accusation of being of low moral integrity, of being worse than a cheat - as somebody who is actually destroying not the ball but the entire purpose and spirit of the game.

SIEGEL: You mean, this Australian official in his judgment in meting out the penalty was casting great aspersions on the Pakistani players, if not the entire nation of Pakistan.

Mr. BARNES: Exactly that, exactly that. So what happened was that the Pakistan players, though they were clearly knocked off their spindle by this, carried on playing until the next interval, whereupon they got together in the dressing room and obviously lots of heated discussion and distress was caused, and they didn't come out for the next session on time.

So in the meantime, there were lots of messages going to and from the dressing room and to and from the high-ups, whereupon the Pakistanis decided okay, we'll play, we'll play. And the English side were prepared to play. The Pakistan Cricket Board were prepared to play. The English Cricket Board were prepared to play.

However, the umpire, Darrell Hair, said as a matter of fact, chaps, I've already declared that the contest is over and that Pakistan have forfeited the match. Therefore the match can't continue. Therefore 20,000 people in the stadium will be deprived of their cricket. Therefore several million people around the world will be deprived of their entertainment. Therefore the players and the nations in turn will be deprived of their game of cricket.

SIEGEL: So this is the end of civilization as we know it.

Mr. BARNES: It is. Certainly it is one of those sporting scandals that will become a milestone in the sport. The strange thing is that in these troubled times between Westerners and Muslim countries, relationships between Pakistan cricketers and the Pakistan Cricket Board and the English equivalent have really never been better, in my knowledge. And this test series of four five-day matches has been a very nice test series to watch, and this test match was boiling up to a fascinating conclusion in which Pakistan most certainly had the edge. We've been deprived of some great sport.

SIEGEL: Now a cynic here might say figure skating is also a wonderful, beautiful event to watch. Cycling is wonderful and so is sprinting. Welcome to the real world. There are scandals and allegations of dishonesty and whatnot.

Mr. BARNES: Yes. Certainly there has been - that is most certainly the case. Sport is scandal-ridden. Cricket is scandal-ridden. It is a passionate game played for very high emotional and moral stakes. Of course there are scandals in it. There are always going to be scandals. This is one of them.

SIEGEL: Simon Barnes, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BARNES: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Simon Barnes, who is chief sportswriter for the Times of London.

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