Never-ending malady

Huge betting and, consequently, fixing, spread its wings with the live telecast of matches, particularly in Sharjah, in the mid-80s. By S. Dinakar.

Corruption once again threatens cricket’s very survival. The arrest of Santhakumaran Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila on charges of alleged spot-fixing in IPL-6 has brought the game’s credibility under the scanner.

The images of the three cricketers, their visages covered, being taken away by the Delhi Police to the Chief Metoropolitan Magistrate, sent shockwaves across the cricketing fraternity.

Ironically, the three cricketers represented a franchise, Rajasthan Royals, that was being led by one of the game’s most respected cricketers — Rahul Dravid.

And then was not Sreesanth paid Rs. 2.2 crore every season by the franchise for less than 50 days of cricket. Was this not, if found to be true, a case of greed prevailing over values?

At least the cricketers from the previous generation were not so handsomely — some would argue insanely paid — remunerated.

Huge betting and, consequently, fixing, spread its wings with the live telecast of matches, particularly in Sharjah, in the sub-continent from the mid-80s.

Those days were far removed from Twenty20 cricket, but stories abound about match-fixing on a massive scale in the games there. This was, according to many, where the rot started.

The nexus between the cricketers and a section of the underworld was disturbing. Many of the ODIs in Sharjah during that era were decidedly ‘shady.’ Cricket had lost its innocence.

With burgeoning television coverage following the 1992 World Cup in Australia-New Zealand, there were increasing reports of the fixing destroying the fabric of the game.

This was not limited to ODIs — Twenty20 cricket was unheard of then — but in the hallowed Test cricket too. It was in this era that Pakistan’s Basit Ali and Rashid Latif abruptly flew back home during a tour of Zimbabwe where the Tests, allegedly, were rigged.

In the post-Imran Khan phase, the Pakistan cricket team lacked a strong leader and there were tales of bitter fights between some key members of the side, attached to rival bookie networks… even in the dressing room.

Those were the days when cricket did not have ICC’s Anti Corruption Wing. It can be said too that this toothless grossly understaffed body without adequate power would not have made any difference either.

Meanwhile, the state of cricket in Pakistan moved from bad to worse. The side’s captain Salim Malik, an elegant batsman, was banned for life in 2000 for offering money to Australians Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May to underperform before the Karachi Test. The ban was lifted in 2008 by a civil court in Lahore.

During the enquiry — constituted in 1998 — under Justice Quayyum, Malik was found to be guilty. Paceman Ata-ur-Rahman too was banished from the game for life. In fact, Justice Quayyum also recommended heavy fine to some of Pakistan’s foremost cricketers including Wasim Akram, Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq. This was bad news for the game becoming increasingly commercial.

By now, the arrival of mobile phones provided a huge boost to bookies and the millions who placed illegal bets. The combination of mobiles and live telecast took illegal betting — the genesis of fixing — to rarefied heights.

And this was not limited to influencing results alone. ‘Spread betting’ very similar to ‘spot fixing’ became increasingly prevalent. The runs scored or conceded in a session of a Test match or a five or a 10-over period in an ODI became a profitable medium for the bookies. The punters now did not have to wait till the conclusion of the match; the pace of fixing was quickening.

Before long, some of the Indian star cricketers including former captain Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and the controversial Delhi paceman Manoj Prabhakar found themselves in the news for the wrong reasons.

Those were traumatic days. India’s cricketing icon Kapil Dev too was investigated for colluding with bookmakers; consequently he was moved to tears while answering tough questions in a television interview. Kapil, however, was cleared for lack of evidence. The all-rounder, though, resigned as India coach.

A few matches of the ODI series between host India and South Africa in 2000 were believed to have been fixed. The Delhi Police had tapped telephonic conversations between Cronje and bookmakers.

Cronje admitted to fixing and was consequently banned for life. And the players he roped in, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams were handed out differing punishments; Gibbs, however, got away with a ridiculously light sentence.

The Indian Board acted tough. Following a CBI enquiry, Azharuddin was banned for life — this was overturned by the Hyderabad High Court in 2012 when his career was effectively finished.

Prabhakar, who attempted to present himself as a whistle blower, and Jadeja were banned for five years. Jadeja’s ban, though, was squashed by the Delhi High Court after three years.

Cricket progressed into a period where the television technology improved manifold. Betting and fixing adapted to the changing circumstances.

From time to time, disturbing signs surfaced. West Indian batsman Marlon Samuels was handed a two-year ban in 2008 for giving bookies match-related information. The Jamaican, subsequently, made a strong comeback to international cricket. There was a growing belief that the punishments were not stringent enough.

Then, a spot-fixing bombshell rocked the cricketing world in 2010. A brilliantly conceived sting operation by British tabloid News of the World caught bookie Mazhar Majeed accepting money on camera for pacemen Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir bowling deliberate no-balls during a specific ball of a pre-decided over.

With skipper Salman Butt too succumbing to the lure of the big bucks, the plan worked. Asif and Amir sent down no-balls for ridiculous amounts of money. By now, News of the World had passed on the information to Scotland Yard which swooped in on the cricketers and recovered cash.

Butt and Asif were banned for life while the young Amir was handed out a five-year ban. In a major deterrent, Butt and Asif spent time in British jail — both have been released — while Amir served out his sentence in a remand home.

Interestingly, Majeed had boasted about his links with Indian cricketers Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. These claims were quickly dismissed by the BCCI.

Spot fixing, an easy but devious way to make fast money, was travelling to different platforms. Former Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria and young English paceman Meryvn Westfield of Essex were arrested in England on allegations of fixing spots in county cricket. Consequently, Westfield was banned from cricket for five years.

A sting, by Indian television channel India TV, which employed entrapment as a tactic, found first class cricketers, pacemen Shalabh Srivatsava and T.P. Sudhindra, agreeing to accept money to fix spots. BCCI banned both for life.

And now Sreesanth & company find themselves in a mess. Fixing has the potential to consume the game. Eventually it boils down to the integrity of the cricketer. It’s a call he has to make.

The country also requires a strong anti-corruption legislation in sports as a deterrent.