The other side of the story

Trott has not been at his best in recent Tests but no-one among the journalists covering England regularly had any clue that he would follow the path already trodden by Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy.-AP

It’s fun this sporting life but I have had the chance to ask many a star if he enjoyed every minute and found that few have been able to relax under the full force of international competition, writes Ted Corbett.

Sport is such a joy that those of us who see its beauty can never be bored. But, I am sorry to have to tell you, that is not the full story, Sometimes our best moments are spoiled.

We have memories by the score — an innings by Sachin Tendulkar, aggressive bowling by Dennis Lillee, a run and shot by Messi or Pele, elegant ground strokes from Roger Federer, Tiger Woods fighting his way to victory — that keeps us going when the season closes down.

Happily, in this era, satellite television ensures that our favourite game is not just 24/7 but 12 months of the year. We can sit at home while a rainstorm makes life unpleasant outside but on our TV screen there is sunshine and cricket, a gusty wind and the America’s Cup, lush greens and smooth fairways and the sight of Woods or Federer completing yet another miracle.

In our mind’s eye — whether we are old and grumpy or too young to raise a bat — we see ourselves alongside Tendulkar or Woods, knocking up opposite Federer or Andrew Murray or, as someone makes a mistake we can say, quietly, “I would never have done that. By this time I would be celebrating a success. I feel sorry for that player because he never gets it quite right.”

Sadly, as I have heard as I write, there is another side to 21st century sport, and although I hate to say I told you so, I have warned The Hindu and Sportstar’s many readers of this danger repeatedly.

Last month seven men were arrested on suspicion that they had tried to corrupt footballers and control the result of a variety of matches. Two appeared in court the day before I began this piece. The usual warnings have been issued by the authorities; everyone says they should be on the look-out for such criminal acts.

Twelve years after the first hints of game-fixing came into the open — ten years after they should have been investigated — this insidious practice continues. It seems to centre on the Straits of Malaysia but I am sure it spreads its tentacles further.

The stories about victories by Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France are indications that there is corruption in American sport just as there is doping among Caribbean athletes, bribery in Pakistan and South African cricket teams, while these evil practices have reached the lower levels of both cricket and football in England.

Every time these crimes are uncovered, some high official will slap himself on the back and say that at last we have got to grips with the big, bad gangsters but I am afraid we are not even beginning to solve the problem.

It is the biggest enemy faced by those who run every sport from athletics to zebra racing. Wherever there is betting there will be someone ready to splash out a few bobs to make the result suit his pocket and, sadly, there is no way of stopping this habit.

It began with the first Olympic Games in Greece which had to be halted to stop all the corruption and I guess there is a chance that it will be repeated.

Lane Armstrong... hero to zero.-AP

Man is greedy and ready to risk jail to collect cash. That cannot be conquered but it is not the only sin that besets sport and in particular cricket.

The first Test of the Ashes series will be remembered only for the consequence of England’s heavy defeat; that Jonathan Trott had to fly home the next day.

He had, the team management declared, finally given in to the stress of Test cricket. Trott has not been at his best in recent Tests but no-one among the journalists covering England regularly had any clue that he would follow the path already trodden by Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy.

You will ask, and rightly so, why it is that the modern sportsmen cannot take the pressure of Test, ODI and T20 cricket when their predecessors over the last century have performed unscathed, despite the England bodyline or the West Indies’ barrage of bouncers.

My answer is simple. Are we sure there was no retreat from these avalanches of short-pitched stuff? I remember thinking, when Australia was forced to admit that two of their players had consorted with bookmakers five years earlier: I wonder what they have covered up in the past that made them confident they could hide this offence.

Perhaps some of the old-time heroes also found the going too tough. It is a commonplace that those who did resorted to drink. Now class one drugs are cheap enough; perhaps some of the modern greats have taken their share of those mind-blowing substances.

So, as you recall the perfect off drive from Brian Lara and wish he might play it for you in your own living room, or wonder if you could have survived an over from Jeff Thomson and wish he would come through the door to test your resolve, add the rider that sport is not always what it seems and be happy that you never have to try out your visions of glory in front of 80,000 spectators.

It’s fun this sporting life but I have had the chance to ask many a star if he enjoyed every minute and found that few have been able to relax under the full force of international competition.

Some will admit they buckled and some that they were happy when it was all over.