Like selling one's soul to Satan

File photos of cricketers, from left to right, T. P. Sudhindra, Mohnish Mishra, Abhinav Bali, Amit Yadav and Shalabh Srivastava who were suspended from all forms of cricket by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). All the players are accused of spot fixing. Bali figured in the now defunct ICL.-PTI File photos of cricketers, from left to right, T. P. Sudhindra, Mohnish Mishra, Abhinav Bali, Amit Yadav and Shalabh Srivastava who were suspended from all forms of cricket by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). All the players are accused of spot fixing. Bali figured in the now defunct ICL.

The BCCI and other cricketing bodies including the ICC, should implement more stringent measures that will deter players from answering that life-altering call from an obnoxious bookie. And most importantly the cricketers too should embrace honesty and recognise the first principle behind their early forays into sport — back then they played for its sheer joy. Money and fame-factory's blind alley came in much later though most now live in a bubble, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Sport is about honest sweat and the rage for perfection. And above all it is about the overwhelming desire to win. At times this frenzied march towards victory triggers a brain-freeze and warped measures are unveiled.

The bodyline tactic employed by England captain Douglas Jardine and implemented through the fearsome fast bowler Harold Larwood against Sir Don Bradman in 1932-33 or Australian skipper Greg Chappell egging on Trevor Chappell to bowl an under-arm delivery against New Zealand's Brian McKechnie in 1981, were all manifestations about that single-point agenda: win at all costs even if it shreds the spirit of the game. Tragically, the extreme-urge-to-win's polar opposite as revealed through the recurring blots of ‘match-fixing' and ‘spot-fixing' threatens the very existence of the willow game.

The above-mentioned dualities of cricket were revealed on May 14, a typical summer day in the rest of India while Bangalore watched rain-bearing clouds recede just in time for the Indian Premier League match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians. Ambati Rayudu (81 n.o.) guided Mumbai Indians to a gripping triumph and then sullied the moment with his obscene gestures and verbal barbs against Harshal Patel. An ugly victory was secured and at the same time, word spread about India TV's sting that nailed Shalabh Srivastava, Amit Yadav (both Kings XI Punjab), Mohnish Mishra (Pune Warriors), T. P. Sudhindra (Deccan Chargers) and Abhinav Bali (Delhi Giants in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League).

The five players were caught off-guard while they spoke about the probability of indulging in illicit practices like bowling no-balls and some like Mishra claimed that they were paid over and above the Rs. 30-lakh ceiling prescribed for domestic players, who are yet to represent India. Most of them subsequently feigned injured-innocence while the Board of Control for Cricket in India suspended the ‘offenders' and asked Ravi Sawani, the BCCI's anti-corruption wing chief, to launch an enquiry.

Srivastava, Yadav, Mishra and Sudhindra are at best fringe players for their respective franchises and there is no concrete proof about them under-performing in any of the matches they have played so far — be it IPL or first-class games. Yet the damage has been done because sport is also about belief. It's the clichéd ‘glorious uncertainties' and ‘David versus Goliath' themes that make us watch sport but if ‘fixing' creeps in then that very faith is shattered.

Spot-fixing is another blight that tailed IPL in a notorious week in which Shah Rukh Khan's ire against security guards at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium and Luke Pomersbach's alleged misdemeanour with a woman, added further grist to the moral ineptitude that has stained the league. However, a superstar's rage and a cricketer's libido have no bearing on the game but spot-fixing and its evil cousin match-fixing can destroy the very foundation of the sport.

AUSTRALIAN PLAYER LUKE POMERSBACH, who was on the rolls of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, coming out from Patiala House court after being granted bail. Pomersbach was arrested for allegedly molesting an American woman and severely beating up her fiance, in New Delhi on May 18, 2012.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Disturbingly for India, these fresh insinuations have come after a decade spent in recovering from the scars of 2000. During that tumultuous year, the Delhi police stumbled upon shady conversations between the late Hansie Cronje and bookies. The subsequent inquisition derailed the South African captain and also scorched India's Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma, who were banned for life while Ajay Jadeja was suspended for five years.

After those dark days, Indian cricket revived itself thanks to the efforts of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. “The onus was on us to deliver. We had to play good cricket and ensure that we got the backing of the public and from that phase onwards we began to win more matches and began to travel well,” Srinath said.

India soared high, faith returned, the number one status in Tests was secured and a World Cup was won. The losses in England and Australia may have pushed the team back by a few steps but more than that, it is the ‘soul-selling' conversations that Srivastava and company indulged with a journalist masquerading as a player-agent, which has plunged the knife further into Indian cricket's heart.

When the two Mohammads — Asif and Amir — bowled intentional no-balls at Lord's in 2010 with Pakistan skipper Salman Butt also being part of the conspiracy, there was a smug faith on this side of the Wagah border that such events would never shrivel the fabric of Indian cricket. That belief is now lost.

Varied theories have been propped up as probable reasons behind the latest spot-fixing problem. The ceiling of Rs. 30-lakh for uncapped Indian players is considered to have bred a complex interplay of greed and envy among those who missed out on playing for the national squad. These ‘less-privileged' players have largely been mollified by fringe benefits from franchises that have played around the rules.

Whispers of swanky cars, surrogate advertising and unlisted employment with the team-owner's company have done the rounds but for those few, who even missed these perks, the stumble towards tainted money is apparently just one step away.

The latest developments are a travesty of justice as the BCCI's ceiling for uncapped Indian players was actually meant to spur them on to battle harder for that blue blazer and cap. The reverse seems to have happened with many cricketers of both shades — the satiated and the greedy — seemingly proclaiming their lazy motif: ‘Let me make money while the India cap can wait.'

Srinath, who is also an ICC match referee besides being the secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, stressed that there should be increased awareness about the perils of associating with the game's malevolent forces. “At the under-19 World Cup, players attend these sessions and they are shown videos about this issue. I guess the time has now come to take this education one rung lower, time to take it to the grassroots at the under-14 level. At the KSCA Academy, we will soon have classes on this,” Srinath said.

Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's Chief Administrative Officer, emphasised that a change for the better has to first stir within a cricketer's heart. “Before the IPL, all the teams were briefed about anti-corruption measures. As for international players, they are all aware. The ICC conducts regular classes, gives relevant literature and especially after the Pakistani players were caught for spot-fixing, there has been an increased drive towards awareness. Cricketers are told to stay away from these sorts of influences, to avoid strangers and to immediately report to the authorities. So if a player says he is not aware of all this then he is not being true to himself. Now that we have also formed an anti-corruption wing, before the next domestic season, every State association will have these anti-corruption seminars. Once the awareness levels increase then I am positive that these things won't happen,” Prof. Shetty said.

Spin legend E. A. S. Prasanna, who had allied with the Indian Cricket League earlier, propagated the drastic view that betting should be made legal so that gambling's underground version cannot surface again. “The Indian Cricket League owes money to players and officials and if some of these accused players also are part of that unpaid list even then it is no excuse for them to stoop so low. Actually they should be grateful to the IPL for offering another medium of livelihood. May be the way out would be to legalise betting and tax it heavily,” Prasanna said.

The BCCI and other cricketing bodies including the ICC, should implement more stringent measures that will deter players from answering that life-altering call from an obnoxious bookie. And most importantly the cricketers too should embrace honesty and recognise the first principle behind their early forays into sport — back then they played for its sheer joy. Money and fame-factory's blind alley came in much later though most now live in a bubble.

Perhaps, cricketers of all dispositions can dip into Rahul Dravid's Sir Don Bradman Oration in which he said: “One of the things Bradman said has stayed in my mind. That the finest of athletes had, along with skill, a few more essential qualities: to conduct their life with dignity, with integrity, with courage and modesty. All this he believed, were totally compatible with pride, ambition, determination and competitiveness. Maybe those words should be put up in cricket dressing rooms all over the world. If we stand up for the game's basic decencies, it will be far easier to tackle its bigger dangers — whether it is finding short cuts to easy money or being lured by the scourge of spot-fixing and contemplating any involvement with the betting industry.”

* * * SKELETONS, CUPBOARDS AND ALL THAT... The first whistle-blower

Qasim Umar, Pakistan's middle-order batsman in the mid-1980s, was perhaps the first cricketer to raise concerns about match-fixing and drug-abuse. Umar even named a few players but he failed to back his claims and lost his spot from among Imran Khan's men. Sadly those old wheels of discontent are still revolving within Pakistan cricket.

Protean disaster

Until the summer of 2000, Hansie Cronje could do nothing wrong. April 7 of that same year changed the script tragically for Cronje. The Delhi Police found a trail of money and deceit that linked the South African captain and bookies. Skeletons crashed from the visitor's cupboards and Herschelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje coped with the lingering suspicion of under-performing against India. Cronje was banned, the rest were rehabilitated but cricket was never the same.

Magical wrists, tainted hands?

A poet among batsmen, Mohammad Azharuddin melded geometrical precision with wrists that mocked the field. The former Indian captain's halo cracked in the aftermath of Cronjegate and though he pleaded his innocence, the Central Bureau of Investigation claimed that it had incriminating evidence. Azharuddin is still legally fighting the life-time ban imposed on him by the BCCI while Ajay Sharma, another accused, has vanished from the public glare. Ajay Jadeja, who was then implicated for having links with bookies, now graces television studios. During that distant startling phase, Manoj Prabhakar levelled allegations against Kapil Dev, stating that the great allrounder induced him to underperform. Prabhakar also paid the price for being part of the bookie-nexus while Kapil broke down during an interview with Karan Thapar.

Another artist bites the dust

Pakistan's Salim Malik, the aesthetic counter-point to Javed Miandad's bluster, was also found to have supped with the devil. Shane Warne, Tim May and Mark Waugh revealed that Malik tried to influence them during a Test in Karachi. Malik denied, countered the charge in the court but was found guilty of match-fixing in 2000.

How is the weather?

Perhaps it was the greatest disservice that the ICC did towards its own cause of weeding out corruption. When Warne and Mark Waugh disclosed that they had shared information about pitches and weather with bookies during 1994, they got away with a mere fine from the Australian Cricket Board while the game's premier body looked elsewhere.

Fallen angels, Ajay Jadeja and Mohd. Azharuddin.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Shall we over-step?

The hallowed turf at Lord's inexplicably reeked of corruption's stench in 2010 when Pakistan's Mohammads — Asif and Amir — bowled intentional no-balls after being goaded by their captain Salman Butt and a dubious agent Mazhar Majeed. Spot-fixing was back in the news and Pakistan had lost its cricketing spine.