Yet another beating to the game’s credibility

The umpire in cricket has always been considered to be an epitome of integrity and indisputability. But what happens when he decides to shed that image in order to pursue his own agenda? Players and fans would, arguably, feel the same as a child who realises that her parents don’t have her best interests at heart. By Priyansh.

In his famed memoir on cricket and politics in the Caribbean islands, Beyond a Boundary, C. L. R. James appreciates the role played by the British public school system in inculcating values of fair play and discipline in him and his friends. James’ antagonism towards colonial rule notwithstanding, the Trinidadian never refuted the significance of his educational experience which was a major reason behind his gentlemanly ways on the ground.

Hence it’s unsurprising when, later in the book, James expresses outrage at the readiness of American sportspersons to ‘throw’ games and its acceptability in their society. Thankfully, James died more than a decade before Hansie Cronje admitted to being “dishonest” with the South African board. The Trinidadian would have felt cheated if he had witnessed that match-fixing episode, as many fans actually did in 2000.

Since then cricket’s credibility has taken a beating as many such scandals have been revealed, the most recent being the admission by six umpires that they would be willing to take money in order to give 'favourable' decisions. This revelation is another major blow to the sport’s image after the 2010 spot-fixing scandal involving Pakistani players.

While earlier match-fixing episodes featured players as protagonists, this time it’s the turn of the umpires to prove they are not far behind either. The umpire in cricket has always been considered to be an epitome of integrity and indisputability. But what happens when he decides to shed that image in order to pursue his own agenda? Players and fans would, arguably, feel the same as a child who realises that her parents don’t have her best interests at heart.

In light of the latest scandal, the arguments for the mandatory use of the Decision Review System (DRS) gain further strength. Along with questions over the accuracy in decision-making by the DRS, many have also maintained that the ‘human element’ in cricket is indispensable to the game and technology undermines the authority of the on-field umpires.

These arguments against the DRS, however, will be tougher to sustain now. The umpire match-fixing scandal has brought forward another aspect of the ‘human element’ whose negative impact could only be mitigated by the use of technology. The use of DRS, in a case where an umpire undermines his own authority by engaging in match-fixing, would ensure that the greater authority and credibility of the sport is upheld.

In the meanwhile, the game’s popularity continues to go south. The lack of good quality cricket and advent of T20 franchise leagues are often quoted as the significant reasons behind the narrowing of the sport’s fan base. While these arguments carry some merit in themselves, the fundamental underlying link between them is the constant erosion of cricket’s charm.

Incidents of match-fixing or any other such unethical practice can be found in other sports too. The Serie A in Italy has been rocked by two big match-fixing scandals over the past six years and as a result, severe punishments were handed out to most offenders. However, football still continues to be a rage among the Italians. Unfortunately for cricket administrators, exemplary punishments alone don’t help in regaining the trust of an average cricket fan. In modern times cricket is a victim of its gentlemanly character, which it is purportedly imbued with. Cricket has always been considered as the sport which best epitomises the Victorian ideals, in contrast with a traditionally working-class sport like football. Hence whenever a case of impropriety like match fixing appears in cricket, the consternation expressed is much stronger.

While administrators struggle to invent ways in order to curb more such incidents, there remains a greater psychological battle to be fought. The clichéd perception that cricketers are underpaid in contrast with other sportspersons from the West refuses to go away. Such misconceptions fuel dissatisfaction amongst players and sometimes result in the acceptance of money by some to underperform. Sadly, the grim reality of cricket is inescapable. To put it in cricketing terms, the sport is on the verge of a follow-on with two days left. As the stadium attendances and TRPs continue to dwindle, it will be nothing short of a miracle if cricket manages to recover its soul and charm.

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Ex-umpire Hair not surprised

Former ICC elite panel umpire Darrell Hair is not at all surprised by the allegations of fixing against match officials, and said such rumours started doing the rounds ever since the birth of the cash-rich Indian Premier League.

Hair's statement came after the ICC has launched an “urgent investigation” into the claims made by an Indian television channel that several umpires were willing to fix matches for money in the just-concluded Twenty20 World Cup and Sri Lanka Premier League.

“I was wondering how long it would take before some umpire did some stupid things,” he said.

“There have been rumours going around for ages, since the IPL started, that umpires were involved,” Hair was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.

“It all comes down to two things: opportunity and greed.

“If you’re the type of person and you’re given the opportunity, the greedy part of you will say, ‘Yeah, I’m in’.”

The six umpires, who are purportedly shown in the India TV sting willing to fix matches, are Nadeem Ghauri and Anees Siddiqui of Pakistan, Nadir Shah of Bangladesh, and Gamini Dissanayake, Maurice Winston and Sagara Gallage of Sri Lanka.

“In my whole career, there had always been word that certain umpires were on the take here or there,” said Hair, who resigned as an international umpire in 2008 after an illustrious career of 16 years.