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By Suresh Menon
Maine match banaya (I fixed matches) is surely the most depressing three words ever spoken by an Indian sportsman. That the man making the confession was Mohammad Azharuddin, India’s captain, only made it worse. Those days, however, India did not have a law in place to deal with players who fixed cricket matches.
A decade later, India still do not have such a law. Fixing clearly did not end with raps on a few knuckles, some moral science lectures and a smugness that was shattered by the conviction in the UK of three players for spot fixing. Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir have been garnering some sympathy for their youth, their talent and the suspicion that they were caught while bigger fish simply swam away.
They were lucky because the judge tempered justice with mercy, and did not give them the full seven year sentence if exemplary punishment had been the order of the day. The youngest, Amir, was 18 when he overstepped (in more senses than one). If by that age your moral compass is not firmly in place pointing out the difference between right and wrong, then it will never be.
It is difficult to shake off the feeling that the players got away lightly for the biggest crime you can commit on a sports field – to, as Simon Barnes has pointed out in his column, lend significance to an essentially trivial pursuit. The sight of cars passing by as you sit in a bus-stop leaves you unaffected; but bet with someone that the next one to go past is a Honda and suddenly you have significance; then call up a friend to ensure that he drives his Honda past you, and you have match-fixing.
It is instructive that the players who have had to deal with, and sometimes confessed to, the accusation of match fixing have been captains of their teams. Leading teams like South Africa, India and Pakistan.
Only the terminally naive could have believed that with the death of Cronje and the disgrace of Azharuddin, match-fixing disappeared from cricket. If it happened once, it could happen again.
Especially if the response by the authorities the first time around was weak. The respective cricket boards were more keen than the perpetrators of the crime on sweeping everything under the carpet.
The ICC has a difficult job on its hands – spot fixing is not something that can be easily detected or conclusively proved. Was that maiden over paid for or part of the natural turn of events? Was that batsman tapping the pitch to send a signal to his co-conspirator or was there something that needed patting down?
After all, it was a sting operation by a newspaper that outed the Pakistani conspiracy. The ICC might have the resources and can hire personnel even, but does it have the intent? Governing bodies of sport like to pretend that all is well even when it isn’t because otherwise they turn away fans, and more worryingly, sponsors. Who wants to pump money into a crooked sport?
The argument that Indians are unlikely to be involved because the IPL pays them so much money is flawed because this is not about making enough money – for the greedy and the corrupt there is no limit.
Still, there is something damaging about a sportsman going to jail for a crime connected with his sport. But it could happen again. The temptations are enormous, the acts virtually undetectable, and bringing the matter to court too much a matter of luck.
But a proper law against fixing in all its avatars needs to be put in place if there is to be some chance of a player paying for his sins.