It's just not cricket

Like in the real world of politics and commerce, it looks as if we cannot root out deviance from the field of sports, especially from sub-continent cricket that has been spoiled by too much money. Can we at least reduce the frequency of such acts like the ones in which Butt, Asif and Amir colluded? By R. K. Raghavan.

Amidst the gloom that envelops international cricket following the unethical conduct of three Pakistani cricketers during the recent Test against England at Lord's, I am encouraged by the firm action of the ICC (International Cricket Conference) in suspending the three delinquents.

From this distance I can gauge how much pressure the ICC would have come under to gloss over the incident or lay it over for another day. That the governing body did not yield bodes well for the future of the game and should send the message that misconduct on the field will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

I am amused by the direct and brazen attempts of the Pakistani government to protect its misbehaving cricketers. The bluster of its High Commissioner and his quibbling that anyone accused of a crime is not guilty unless proven so was particularly funny. It did not seem to have impressed the ICC which has possibly had the benefit of the Scotland Yard findings, either officially or informally, in coming to its independent conclusion of guilt. While the three offending players — Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir — will face an internal enquiry, I won't be surprised if the Yard presses criminal charges, without prejudice to what the ICC does.

Let us not gloat over what has happened to the Pakistanis. Remember that there are some Indian names — especially Dheeraj Dikshit, a Delhi photo-journalist — being mentioned. Let us keep our fingers crossed that any of our boys did not get mixed up in the sordid happenings. I am not being an alarmist, but only preparing my readers for any shock.

All of us should be convinced that corruption in sports cuts across nationalities, religion and culture. That the relatively modest educational attainment of most of the Pakistani cricketers and the poor compensation — as compared to their Indian counterparts — they receive from their Board are cited as reasons why Pakistani cricketers have been more vulnerable to the machinations of bookies only partially explains the malaise. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the game is administered in many countries. Big money and ambitious and unscrupulous officials have together generated an ambience wherein the craving for success (read money) extinguishes any desire to be straightforward and correct.

Like in the real world of politics and commerce, it looks as if we cannot root out deviance from the field of sports, especially from sub-continent cricket that has been spoiled by too much money. Can we at least reduce the frequency of such acts like the ones in which Butt, Asif and Amir colluded? This line of thinking opts for what is practical and avoids being dreamy. This is what anti-corruption agencies like the CBI and Vigilance Bureaus in the country aim at.

There is a lot of scepticism about the efficacy of the ICC's anti-corruption unit. The criticism that it is slow and tardy is unexceptionable given the frequency of scandals. But then it is unrealistic to expect a small unit of devoted men to do anything more than being reactive and not proactive. They are best at investigating an incident after it has occurred, but cannot prevent a player or two misbehaving as the Pakistani trio did. This is why prudence demands that we act to strengthen the anti-corruption unit of each cricket playing country and give it enough autonomy to operate and report.

This is not enough. We need to award exemplary punishment to a cricketer who has been proved guilty beyond doubt. If we soft-pedal an incident for the sake of popularity and out of charity, we will be causing the greatest harm to the game.

I am particularly impressed with what Sunil Gavaskar advocates. He suggests total blanking of the past performance of a cricketer proved guilty from all official records, as if he did not play the game at all. This may seem crude and excessive. But I have the gut feeling it could act as sufficient deterrent to those oscillating between honesty and venality.

The writer is former CBI Director