It has been nine years since the News of the World ceased publication. Nine years. Doesn’t time fly?
The year before its ignominious ending however, the British newspaper, despite all its controversies, had one last hurrah, one last ball-buster of a story that exposed corruption at the highest level. Almost exactly a decade ago the cricketing world exploded. In August 2010, News of the World reporter and undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood posed as the infamous ‘Fake Sheikh’ in order to expose a cricket bookie named Mazhar Majeed, who claimed Pakistani cricketers had committed spot-fixing during Pakistan's 2010 tour of England. It was a scandal in the highest echelons of the sport.
A new book guides you through the irrefutable evidence of fixing, in a Test between two major nations, at the home of cricket, with all those involved subsequently sent to jail. It takes the reader through the back-handers, back-biting, and back-stabbing, from defendants turning on each other, perceived entrapment, and sports-stars legacies completely eradicated. A transcontinental journey from the cricket pavilion to the court-room. And despite the controversial publication that announced the news to the world, this fresh account pays due tribute to the ‘gold-standard’ of journalism involved, a story that swept the board at the UK Press Awards and hasn’t been emulated since :“No one who has gone down this path since has even come close to hitting that sweet spot.”
“CAUGHT!’ the NotW front page was typically bombastically emblazoned, depicting the match-fixer pocketing a stonking £150,000 for the Test at Lord’s. A year later, in November 2011, the cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were found guilty by a London court on criminal charges relating to spot-fixing. Their teammate, fast bowler Mohammad Amir, and Mahjeed had entered guilty pleas on the same charges.
Spies, agents, it was espionage on the Oval. Now, in ‘The Thin White Line’, an hour-by-hour account has been excellently compiled to illuminate once-again one of the most shocking examples of corruption ever seen in sport, let alone cricket. The book, expertly written by the deputy sport editor of The Sunday Times, Nick Greenslade, features testimonies by the reporter who broke the earth-shattering story, the man known as the ‘Fake Sheikh’ and who would himself end up behind bars.
We may think of it as a ten-year-old saga relegated to the past, but in the final pages of this excellent study by a journalist at the top of his game, this book reaffirms that this shouldn’t be considered a blemished middle chapter in a long illustrious historical sport. Rather, it possesses the sinister undertones of being both a warning and a precedent, which may still prevail in the game.
The Thin White Line: The Inside Story of Cricket’s Greatest Scandal, Nick Greenslade, Pitch Publishing, RRP £19.99.