New Zealand cricket fans, wincing and groaning through a middle-order batting collapse in Hamilton on Thursday, might have been tempted to wonder whether it was being staged for the benefit of Indian bookmakers.

Alas, the self-immolation (five wickets fell for no runs in the space of 19 balls), though extreme even by the Black Caps' standards, had a glumly familiar ring to it. This is a side to which underperforming comes naturally and requires no conspiracy.

Yet sadly not all bad performances on the cricket field can be attributed to ineptitude. Reports of match-fixing are now almost as common as those of freakish spells of bowling or innings of magisterial command.

Cheating by deliberate underperformance is not new: it's a safe bet that the odd Roman coin changed hands before the ludi at the ancient Circus Maximus; members of the Chicago White Sox were famously suborned to throw the World Series in 1919; and professional boxing has often been darkened by the stain of flighters "taking a dive" - and worse.


But in the 21st century, a lot of the big money has been sloshing around in all three forms of cricket. Match-fixing is now big business, driven largely by the gambling culture on the sub-continent where it is easy to get odds on two flies crawling up a wall. What used to be known as "the gentleman's game", in which displays of good sportsmanship and honourable behaviour were deeply embedded in the ethos, has now been deeply tarnished.

A sting operation by the now-defunct News of the World led to criminal charges and jail terms for three Pakistani cricketers, and this week the Sunday Times reported Indian bookies' claims that two unnamed New Zealanders were involved in match-fixing that was "rife".

It would be nave to think that our players are above suspicion. Who would have suspected Hansie Cronje, the now-deceased South African captain and one of nature's gentlemen, before he confessed in 2000 that he had taken money to throw matches?

That's the depth of the problem. Each new revelation is like the 13th chime of a clock, which forces us to call into question all that has gone before. The essential, perennial charm of cricket, that "funny old game" in which fortunes can turn so suddenly and unexpectedly, has gone. It is hard to imagine that it can ever be rescued from this crisis.