The Thin White Line

Published: 2020
Pages: 256
Author: Greenslade, Nick
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 4 stars

Sub titled The Inside Story of Cricket’s Greatest Scandal, like all stories The Thin White Line has a beginning, a middle and an end. Whether its subject matter is the single greatest scandal the game of cricket has seen is perhaps a moot point, but it is undeniably right up there with the best/worst of them and, inevitably, much of the book’s content is, to coin a phrase, just not cricket.

The stark facts of what happened during the Oval Test of 2010 between England and Pakistan will be entirely familiar to all cricket lovers. More of the background details will have crossed my consciousness at the time the events occurred but, essentially, I have to admit that prior to reading what I believe is Nick Greenslade’s first book I was really only ever completely aware of the end of the beginning of the story, and the beginning of its end. The very beginning, the middle and the end of the end had largely passed me by, but Greenslade’s book is a gripping if somewhat uncomfortable expose of what was a tawdry affair.

At the time the beginning of the story seemed to come and go in an instant. There were those illegal deliveries from Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif and then, immediately afterwards, the blaze of publicity that followed the almost simultaneous exposing of the story by the News of the World. I recall the involvement of the the so-called ‘Fake Sheikh’ in setting up what amounted to a sting, but am not sure I ever did know the detailed history of those non-cricketers involved, or how the operation was planned, set up and carried out.

What I would describe as the middle of the story began as soon as play closed on that fateful day, and the Metropolitan police and cricket authorities investigations that began as soon as they knew what was occurring. There were then a series of T20s and ODIs played in a surreal atmosphere before proceedings began before the ICC and the two fast bowlers, and their captain Salman Butt were, their protestations of innocence disregarded, found guilty of the allegations they faced and made the subject of bans of varying length.

The end is what came afterwards, starting with that trial in Southwark Crown Court where, Amir and the ‘fixer’ having pleaded guilty, Butt and Asif were duly convicted and all four men sentenced to terms of imprisonment of varying lengths. Little of the aftermath of the trial made a great deal of impression on me, although as time has passed I have of course noted the return of Amir to the highest level of the game, albeit without his ever suggesting he might fulfil his early potential which, as a teenager, seemed almost limitless.

Looking back I suspect that at the time I simply didn’t want to know too much about what lay beneath the surface of what had happened. My fear was that the investigations that all and sundry were carrying out would undermine the entire history of the game and threaten the integrity of past players and events that have, for myself and many other cricket tragics, been the gift that has kept on giving for my entire life. Ten years on and the particular danger of corruption seemingly a threat under control I found myself ready to understand exactly what happened at the time, and what has since become of those involved.

Author Greenslade is Deputy Sports Editor at The Sunday Times, and he has made an excellent job of putting together a detailed yet fast moving narrative which covers the entire story. I now see exactly how the case against the men involved was put, and also the basis on which they constructed their carefully crafted albeit flawed defences. I also learned a few things that were new to me. On the cricketing side I had not realised that Butt and Asif had eventually felt the need to abandon their previous denials and admit their involvement. I have also now learnt a little about other enquiries that were launched at the time, their (limited) successes and (alleged) shortcomings.

Outside of cricket thanks to Greenslade I now understand why singer Tulisa Constovtavlos disappeared from view when she did, and how in turn the downfall of the fake sheikh came about. Mazher Mahmood was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment in 2014 for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to the drugs charges that Ms Constovtavlos faced, charges that were dismissed as a result of Mahmood’s conduct.

In no way is The Thin White Line a standard cricket book, and indeed in many ways it is not a cricket book at all, and would perhaps be better described as a true crime book that has a cricketing background. Whatever genre it belongs to however it is a well researched and illuminating account of a dark but important chapter in the history of the cricket. It is well worth seeking out.

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