Chris Cairns: Song of the Tall Poppy

Former Kiwi cricketer Chris Cairns and his legal advisor Andrew Fitch-Holland have been cleared of all charges  of perjury. Any other result would have been a travesty, because the prosecution case was entirely based on gossip and innuendo. How the case even got to court puzzles me; surely the Crown Prosecution Service knew that they had no substantial evidence, no smoking gun. Perhaps they though they could provoke Cairns into a rash admission on the stand? It would have been their only hope, but he’s clearly a stronger character than that.

But the trial went ahead and a very predictable outcome was reached. I hope Chris Cairns moves on now and builds a life of his choosing. I admired his cricketing prowess and his work for charity. I also hope Lou Vincent moves on with his life. He’s still a young man, who has struggled with illness and been open about his moral failings. The most nervous man at the moment may be Black Caps captain Brendan McCullum, who admitted that he failed to report what he claimed to know about specific match fixing in a timely manner. There may be more to come on that score.

So what are the politics of the case?

Well, first up. Lets acknowledge that it was played out under the rule of law. It’s common for some people to say that the justice system in the western world is various shades of broken, but here was a sensible result.

Cairns and Fitch-Holland also had access to a taxpayer funded defence. Lets be clear, that would not happen here in NZ, because the Tories have kneecapped legal aid. They’ve limited who can get it and made it as unattractive as possible for good lawyers. Legal aid used to be a guarantee that working class Kiwis had a chance in court. Not now.

Secondly, corruption. It’s been four decades or more since  cricket was commercialised. Most of the revenue generated has been open and legitimate and has allowed cricketers of varying talents to make a reasonable living from the game. But in the last decade, the growth of live satellite coverage and internet betting has made informal and corrupt betting an astonishingly lucrative adjunct to the game.

Gambling on the intricacies of cricket is almost all pervasive, but it’s one of the oddities of the sport that when the third umpire completely duffed the dismissal of an Aussie batter in Adelaide a few days ago, nobody much screamed “FIX!”. Perhaps we only think of match fixing as an Asian issue. If so, that’s a stupid prejudice. It’s worth remembering that Lou Vincent only ever actually got paid to cheat in England, the home of the game.

Lastly, us. We the people. Cairns and Fitch-Holland have been cleared. There is no evidence whatsoever that they did anything wrong. Yet my twitter feed this morning is full of surprise and even outrage at the verdict. What’s wrong with us that we think we can judge these two men from the comfort of our living rooms, basing our decisions on brief news reports and idle gossip?

Are we that shallow in our thinking that we can’t get past the great Kiwi desire to see a tall poppy fall?

Chris Cairns says his reputation has been “completely scorched” by the trial. That’s a shame and an indictment on the modern media’s capacity to frame an issue. Having been cleared, Cairns should be free to return to cricket as coach or commentator, but because of the apparently ironclad rule that there is no smoke without fire, that’s not going to happen.

Cairns wins, and he loses. And we’ve been played too, people. Readers, if you believe Chris Cairns is a match fixer as a result of this trial, have a good hard think about what that says about your critical faculties. Justice isn’t just something that happens in court, it’s got to happen in our heads and our hearts too.


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