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By Suresh Menon
Cricket is paying the price for a combination of complacency and pusillanimity. After the match-fixing scandal broke a decade ago, India and Pakistan banned some players as did South Africa, who banned Hansie Cronje. But many who were banned like Ajay Jadeja and implicated like Wasim Akram continued to be associated with the game in different capacities, as television experts or coaches.
Despite the commissions of enquiry indicting the players, there was no attempt to hand down ‘exemplary’ punishment of the sort that would set the next generation thinking twice before going the match-fixing route. There was something cozy and convenient about the way it was handled.
No one – official, fellow-player, media, or fan – felt strongly enough or bad enough to want to stamp out the evil. When Cronje confessed, a vast majority sympathized with him as the symbol of the sport fallen on bad days and tempted by wicked Asian men rather than as someone who accepted money and riches to under-perform. Even the telling detail that he cheated his own co-conspirators by giving them less money than he had promised while keeping the difference himself was glossed over.
In 1995, three Australians were alleged to have taken money from a bookie. But it was only three years later that it was revealed that Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May had been fined by their Board.
As the authorities tried to protect their players, the players themselves got bolder and went from merely sharing information on the weather to playing poorly on demand. Had the International Cricket Council come down heavily on the players in the early years, the problem might not have blown up to the degree it did. But the ICC remained in the thrall of the players and an opportunity was lost.
Justice Qayyum, who headed the Commission in Pakistan has confessed he went soft on Akram because he was a fan of the player! He recommended a life ban for Salim Malik and Ataur Rehman. Fines were suggested for Akram and five others. But the curious thing about match-fixing is that just as you cannot be a little pregnant you cannot be slightly guilty. Either you are corrupt or you are clean. There is no halfway house.
India too initiated a system of bans and fines, and by the end of 2000 it was assumed that cricket had been cleansed, the guilty punished and it was time to move on. The ICC had set up its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit under Lord Condon. Administrators felt virtuous and patted themselves on the back.
There were murmurs, and insider stories of match-fixing and its more practical cousin, spot fixing but apart from a few moral science lectures from Lord Condon, there was no reaction from the authorities.
In the past decade, most of the names associated with the original match-fixing scandal had begun to do well for themselves. There was no specific law dealing with it in India, and little interest in pursuing the matter in Pakistan.
The message came through clearly: you could get away with it, after all. Especially since the focus had shifted to discrete events that could be manipulated. Spot fixing rather than fixing the result of a match was the more convenient way for the crooks to operate. The 90 overs in a day could be split into 540 individual events, and for gamblers that was good enough.
If a newspaper could access the middle man and the players involved in fixing so easily, what was the ICC’s anti-corruption folk doing? Clearly cricket is paying the price for complacency. Eternal vigilance is the price of clean sport, and the ICC chose to forget that.
Matchfixing 2.0 is upon us, and it is more depressing than it was the first time around. Then we were unprepared. Now that is no excuse.
The penalty must be so severe as to deter any thoughts in the direction of fixing. It could get sillier. Forget the no ball on schedule. What about the colour of the handkerchief sticking out of a player’s pocket or the length of his sleeves? Both are susceptible to manipulation. If the recent allegations are proved, then we cannot escape the conclusion that the corruption is endemic and institutionalized.
Ban the players, fine the Board, ban the country from participation in international tournaments for a period – the penalty must affect as many stakeholders as possible. That is the only way to cleanse the system from within. We must feel angry. Or the cause is lost.