For the first time, bribes and match fixing is really taking on enormous proportions. The latest revelations, sparked off by Hershelle Gibbs, have shown that nefarious and illegal actions have actually been taken. Up to now, vague accusations and rumours have abounded and the general public thought that shady practice probably took place but nothing concrete would ever come to light. That view has certainly been shot out of the water.
Hansie Cronje will probably be blackballed for ever, Hershelle Gibbs has been banned and I have now no doubt that others will follow. It is no longer a miasma associated purely with illegal book makers on the sub-continent, but substantial wrongdoing by the most modern and progressive team in the world, South Africa. It now, horrifyingly, seems that this corruption could well be a world-wide disease. So far, apart from Cronje, none of the front line players such as Shaun Pollock, Donald Cullinan and Jacques Kallis have been implicated and I hope this remains the case.
Imagine what the older South Africans must feel. Those players like Graeme and Peter Pollock,Mike Proctor and Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow, Jimmy Cook et al who could not play Test cricket during the apartheid years, and who fought so hard for South Africa's return, especially Ali Bacher, must be absolutely horrified that their best efforts, their history and heritage has come to this. Amazingly, having spoken to Test cricketers from several countries since the Cronje revelations first surfaced, none are surprised and this in itself must cause apprehension as to how far into the fabric of World Cricket the cancer has spread.
The news has just been released that Nottinghamshire have cancelled the contract of Shoaib Ahktar. This, of course, is of particular interest to cricket followers in Ulster, as only a couple of years ago Shoaib spent a season at Strabane. The reasons given for his sacking, never having played for the county, is injury and the severity of it is remarkable, prompting fears that he may never play again.
Apparently his action is such that his rib cage is suffering an interaction with his pelvis. This will require such a thorough change in action that he may never be a sufficient force again to play Test cricket. The revelation follows shortly after he was accused of throwing and for this reason he already had reason to try and change. Whether this has caused his present difficulty, I do not know, but then I never thought that he threw anyway! I join with all cricket followers in wishing the "World's Fastest Bowler" the best of luck in the future.
In recent years Cliftonville have undergone a remarkable revival. In the 1970s they were forced to leave their traditional home on the Cliftonville Road, forced out by the troubles. For some years they had to play with no home base outside of a Belfast City Council pitch at Mallusk. Most people thought the club would die, however they hung on buoyed in no small measure by the fact that they had a substantial sum of money behind them and the enthusiasm of a cadre of club die-hards.
Eventually they entered a marriage with another club who were suffering difficult times but had that precious asset, a ground. This was a junior club, Greenisland, and the initial arrangement was that Cliftonville would form the 1st XI and Greenisland the 2nd at the Memorial Ground underneath the Knockagh Monument. The days of Alec Glasby, Rex Gilliland, Wilson Scott, Ernie McCleary, Billy Kirk and Bo McComb had gone and new stars like Kyle McCallan, the Patterson brothers and Sam McComb had arrived.
Cliftonville are now to be found top of Section One, unbeaten and with two South Africans, Gerard Brophy and Gerard Dros in their top order, replacing the absent Pattersons, both on English county contracts. Add some good young players such as Jonathan Terrett, Keith Hogg and Graham Lyness, committed back room boys like Billy Patterson, Roy Millar, Jim Heaney and Alan Neill, and the future looks assured.