England captain tells why Pakistani allegations about his team were ‘a massive slap in the face’
Being accused of throwing matches
“It is the worst thing anyone can say to you. If they’re bringing your integrity as a cricketer into question – especially in the context of what had been going on this summer – there is nothing worse, and there is no bigger affront to you as a person.”
A turbulent summer
“I think it was my hardest time as a captain... There were so many players deeply disappointed and disillusioned. You felt all your efforts in previous matches had been devalued, and it gets you questioning everything you’ve ever done on a cricket field.”
Pakistan being accused of spot-fixing
“I didn’t get a tip-off, I just saw it on the News at Ten the night before. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t quite work out how the Test was going to go ahead the next day. And I have never played in a worse atmosphere than that. It was horrendous.”
ENGLAND captain Andrew Strauss has laid bare the full extent of his fury at seeing the team accused of match-fixing by Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt, calling the claims “a massive slap in the face”.
In a candid interview with City A.M., Strauss says Butt’s remarks – retracted on Wednesday, after more than a week – were the ultimate insult following a hugely turbulent tour overshadowed by serious and detailed allegations that members of the Pakistan side had accepted bribes.
Strauss admits the summer was his toughest spell as skipper and reveals how he had to talk livid players into completing a series that he himself could not wait to finish and now regards as “devalued”.
He also tells how he was “flabbergasted” at hearing of the original spot-fixing claims against Pakistan on the TV news, and calls the atmosphere the following day at Lord’s the worst he has ever experienced.
“I was outraged,” Strauss said of Butt’s claim that some England players were paid “enormous amounts of money to lose” the third one-day international.
“I felt that as a group of players we’d done very well not to embroil ourselves in it in any way. We hadn’t got involved with them on the pitch; the guys had gone about their business in a good professional manner. So then to be brought into it by the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board was a massive slap in the face, and one that we weren’t prepared to stand for.
“It is the worst thing anyone can say to you. If they’re bringing your integrity as a cricketer into question – especially in the context of what had been going on this summer – there is nothing worse, and there is no bigger affront to you as a person than for someone to say you’re dishonest.
“In hindsight, maybe he was doing it in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek fashion, but at the time you just see the quotes in the newspapers. It’s one thing some guy in the street saying it; it’s another when it’s the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.”
Butt’s retraction did not include the “full and unreserved apology” that the England and Wales Cricket board had demanded, but Strauss is keen to draw a line under the spat.
“I think we all want to move on from the matter,” he says. “I think it’s cleared our names – he’s said there was no evidence to it. I think the most important thing for us was that there was no remaining question that we might have been involved in anything like that again, and I think I’m far more comfortable now that that’s the case.”
In the storm that followed Butt’s allegations, Strauss held a momentous meeting to unite an England camp divided on whether to see out the last two matches of the one-day series.
“I think it was my hardest time as a captain,” he says. “After Ijaz Butt came out with his comments and we were in the room deciding what we should do, that was pretty tough because there were some pretty strong views from a number of different players.
“The most important thing for me was we came out of it as a united force, and that’s great testament to some of the players who had to bite their lip and get on with it.” There was, in the end, “if not consensus then very nearly consensus”, he adds.
Strauss, who is an ambassador for the FTI MVP rankings, a statistical analysis system created in conjunction with FTI Consulting, added: “There was definitely part of me that was tempted to walk away from the series. I had very strong misgivings about it going ahead.”
England completed a 3-2 series victory on 22 September, bringing a welcome end to a tour that he concedes was tainted.
“I think there was an immediate sense of relief as soon as that final one-dayer finished,” he says. “Everything we did on the pitch had some sort of subtext to it; to a large extent it was overshadowed by things happening off the pitch.”
The suspicion that dogged Pakistan stemmed from allegations made in a Sunday newspaper during the fourth and final Test that captain Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir had engaged in spot-fixing earlier in that same match. The first Strauss heard of it was while watching television.
“I didn’t get a tip-off, it was just on the News at Ten the night before and it was the lead story,” he recalls. “I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t quite work out how the game was going to go ahead the next day at that stage. And I have never played in a worse atmosphere than that. It was horrendous.
“There were so many players deeply disappointed and disillusioned by what had gone on because you felt all your efforts in previous matches had been devalued, and it automatically gets you questioning everything you’ve ever done on a cricket field. And that’s why it’s such a horrendous blight on the game.”