TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: There’s nothing like a good sports scandal to get you going. Baseball has got doping, basketball’s got refs on the take. Even Olympic ice skating judges have been known to cheat. And now though — and not for the first time, either — scandal in a cricket match. A big one, too. England against Pakistan — except the match was thrown. Until the scandal broke, commentators in Britain were waxing prosaic about the amazing quality of play in the game.
Cricket commentator: What a day, what a turnaround. There’s only one sport that this could happen in, Geoffrey Boycott, and that’s just cricket.
Geoffrey Boycott: What I would say, those of who see a lot of cricket — and there are a lot of people out there watch cricket all their life, which sometimes you see special days that remain in your memory. And this will be one of them.
I can talk sports all day, but I need help with cricket. So we’ve called Matt Frei. He’s a big cricket fan and also the host of BBC World News America. Good to have you with us.
Matt Frei: Thanks for having me.
Ryssdal: This match, of course, will be remembered not for the quality of the play, but for the allegations against the Pakistani team of this bribery.
Frei: Indeed, and quite lowered they are too. I mean, this all came to light when a famous British tabloid — and it’s always a tabloid in Britain — basically recorded a Pakistani businessman in London secretly accepting a bribe in return for telling Pakistani players in his pay that they should fix the match. And therefore, people betting on that match, knowing a certain outcome, would make an awful lot of money.
Ryssdal: The first thing I thought of, and I don’t know how well you know your American baseball, but the 1919 Black Sox and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and “Say it ain’t so, Joe” throwing the World Series. I mean, that’s what this is, in the world o’ cricket.
Frei: It is. But for cricket, I don’t know if you’ve been to Pakistan or India, or indeed, any part of the world touched by the British Empire once upon a time. I mean, cricket is really a religion in those places. If you go to Pakistan today, every street corner of dry land will have someone with a cricket bat and a cricket ball on it. It is a sport of the people, even more so than baseball in this country. People in Pakistan, certainly that we’ve talked to on our program in recent days, are furious. They’re saying that shooting isn’t good enough for these cricketers who’ve been caught.
Ryssdal: I was just going to say, let me extend the baseball analogy here. I mean, our scandals in baseball in America are doping, and there’ve been all kinds of congressional hearings and Roger Clemens has been indicted, and yet, people still use performance-enhancing drugs, and clearly, people in cricket are still betting and gambling.
Frei: They are. And I think one has to say here that cricket and gambling they go together at times a bit like apple pie and cream. And then gambling is illegal in many parts of south Asia, so these are illegal gambling rackets, where you can make an awful lot of money. And there’s always been that temptation. The really sad thing is that it keeps cropping back. I mean, it’s like a bad sore that won’t go away despite all the measures that have supposedly been put in place. And also, to be honest, runs counter with the kind of image of cricket that I grew up with, which was basically the game of gentlemen on a large pitch, everyone wearing white, the soft sound of the bat against the ball. Perhaps someone on the sidelines sipping a warm English beer and chewing into a cucumber sandwich. Well, all that, quite frankly, is piffle!
Ryssdal: About the match itself, just before you go, this was on the most famous cricket ground in the world, Lord’s in England. It was Pakistan and England. I mean, this was a big deal even before people started cheating.
Frei: The fact that this scandal was uncovered in the middle of this match, in the most hallowed cricket ground in the world, of course, is brazen beyond belief. It’s interesting, they were replaying on British television some of the clips where you saw the Pakistani cricketers bowling a ball. And what they did was they kind of overstepped the line and basically threw a non-ball and the commentators were saying, “Hang on a minute, that was really bad. I mean, how could he do something as awful as that and do it repeatedly?” Well now we know why.
Ryssdal: And I won’t even ask you to explain the rules of cricket. Matt Frei is a cricket fan. Also, the host of BBC World News America. Matt, thanks a lot.
Frei: Thank you.