The three men were ushered into the public square, black hoods covering their faces. Their hands and feet had been chained, as befitting the perpetrators of great crimes. The mob that had gathered some time before and grown steadily angrier. It fed on its own anger to become even more furious.
“We want vengeance.”
The authorities knew this was their chance to look good. The three had transgressed under their watch. How better to deflect any criticism of those doing the managing than by serving up those caught for public justice? Let the vultures of shrill outrage feed on the carcass of immediate action, fairness be damned. And protect the money coming in, at all costs. The bottom line was… the bottom line.
Three men had been determined guilty, their crime angered the public, there was fear that this anger could have negative consequences for the overall brand, once the public was angry it fed on its own fury to demand blood, authorities the world over were only too happy to satiate that demand. Pile on the punishment until the outrage is satisfied, the crime be damned, and the penalty matching the crime be doubly damned.
Today was to be the day of the sentencing. There was the blonde one, the stocky one, and the rookie.
The rookie had done the deed, the stocky one had planned it, the blonde one had allowed it to happen. Their crime was trying to cheat to win an unfair advantage in a game. Their punishment had nothing to do with the crime. The punishment was for how people reacted to them being caught doing it.
The three men looked like they had been space-rocketed to an alien civilisation because their lives suddenly didn’t seem to make sense anymore. They played a sport that had wink-wink-nudge-nudge allowed the sort of cheating they attempted for decades. They just did it very ineptly, and got caught. A significant part of the backlash they faced was because they had come to be regarded as ‘bullies’. But not just bullies, sanctimonious bullies who were happy to lecture other teams on appropriate behaviour. That backlash was understandable, and even to be expected.
What threw the three men off was the unrelenting nature of the hostility and its scale. It didn’t stop, and it wouldn’t stop. Its volume meant somebody had to not just do something, but be seen to be doing something. And that something had to be aimed at satisfying those who were going to fork out money, now and in the near future.
Among the baying public who each wanted their pound of flesh, there were two people who stood a little apart. One had a bored look on his face, the other had a puzzled one. The Cynic, for it was he who had the uninterested look, was merely watching dispassionately to record the event since it was of historic significance. The Cricketer was the one who looked confused.
“This is how it is,” the Cynic offered, trying to enlighten the Cricketer. “It’s not pretty and it’s not nice. It might not even seem fair. But when the proverbial waste hits the fan, it sticks more to some than others.”
The Cricketer was grateful for the wisdom, and decided to ask the Cynic about some more incongruous bits about the case that were troubling him. “This is a case of ball-tampering, yes? And all of these three men are batsmen?”
The Cynic nodded.
“Then how is that only these three were found guilty? Were they tampering the ball without the knowledge of the bowlers? If so, wouldn’t the bowlers have realised immediately that something was off when trying to bowl?”
The Cynic allowed himself a smile. “My boy, when there is a train rushing at full speed and you spot some people on the tracks, you have to make a split-second decision on whether you can save everyone or not. If you can’t, you best get those who you can extricate most easily out. The train will hit those left, but their chances of survival were slim anyway.”
“Just my luck,” thought the Cricketer. “I get one guy who looks like he could clear stuff up for me and he likes to use philosophical metaphors to explain things.”
Nevertheless, he persevered. “Alright, so even though it stretches belief that the bowlers didn’t know what was going on, they haven’t been caught or implicated in any manner and can thus escape. So why not do that. I get that. What about the coach?”
The Cynic almost laughed this time. “What about him?”
“Well, he was shown speaking on a walkie-talkie to the twelfth man immediately after the ball tampering footage was shown on screen, and the twelfth man then went into the field and had a word with the Rookie, who panicked and stuffed sandpaper down his trousers. So it looks like the coach had a say in the matter. How is he not punished?
“I know what you’ll say,” the Cricketer went on. “Maybe he didn’t know and after seeing the footage his natural response was to ask those in the dugout just what was going on. That is possible. But then it would mean the coach’s finger is so far off the pulse of his team that he could as well stick his fingers in his ears. If he knew about it, he needs the same punishment. If he didn’t know about it, is he really the coach you want?”
The Cynic did laugh then. “I will be very interested in what the suits offer as explanation for that one. If there is an explanation.”
The Cricketer seemed disturbed. “But that’s not fair then is it. Is this an exercise aimed at finding out the truth and setting an example so that no one cheats, or is it an exercise in ‘let’s mark down the culprits who couldn’t get away and throw the kitchen sink at them? People have tampered with the ball from grade cricket upwards since the game has been played. I know these guys got caught with their hands down their pants as it were, but they could have still barefaced their way out of this with lies. At least they owned up, which some legends of the game never did.”
The Cynic was amused. “It would seem to have been better for them if they had not owned up wouldn’t it? They might have saved themselves a lot of public pain. And certainly, if the public reaction had been more muted, there is no way the authorities would have come down as hard on them as they have.”
The Cricketer looked despondent. “I thought it was about cleaning the game up. I thought this was about making cricket a better sport. I thought it was about proving that the adage ‘it’s just not cricket’ still holds good.”
The Cynic turned. There was genuine bafflement on his face as he addressed the Cricketer. “What’s cricket got to do with a mob lynching?”