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By Suresh Menon
Like diabetes, match-fixing and spot-fixing cannot be cured, only controlled. If diet, exercise and medication is the route to keeping the medical condition in check, vigilance, policing and punishment will most probably keep the cricketing malady manageable. We say 'most probably' because there is no limit to man's ingenuity for making money through means unfair and foul. Perhaps, like chucking, spot fixing has always existed, its just that our detection mechanism was not sophisticated enough in the past.
Cynical? But this seems to be the lesson from the Danish Kaneira case. Wasn't it just the other day that three Pakistani stars were sent to jail for consorting with a bookmaker and introducing an inglorious certainty into a game that prided itself on being the epitome of the opposite?
That Mohammed Amir, a potential world-beater as left arm seamer should so early in his career fall prey to the temptation, and one which was put in his path by his national captain Salman Butt only makes the whole issue more pathetic. Captains are expected to be mentors, pulling out youngsters who stand too close to the edge to get a glimpse of the devil. It is still not too old-fashioned to imagine that a part of their job description is to set a positive example to those in their charge. But when gamekeepers turn poachers, the game has nowehere to turn.
It is only natural that as virus detection gets more sophisticated, the techniques to avoid such detection keeps a step or two ahead.
Since his release from jail and return home, Salman Butt has been pushing the theory that his crime was not so much to make money by spot fixing, but not reporting the approach to the authorities. No sensible person believes him, but the more often he repeats that story, the greater are the chances that it will be accepted as the truth.
When whispers about Hansie Cronje's involvement with bookies were first being heard, the reaction – even among followers of cricket in India – was that he was probably innocent, and it was all an Asian conspiracy. That was a decade and more ago, and although players from Australia, England, and the West Indies too were involved at various stages – in betting if not actual fixing – the cliche established itself early. With India's Mohammad Azharuddin also falling, and the Enquiry committee in Pakistan pointing the finger at senior players and captains, the picture was reinforced.
Fixing, it came to be believed, was an Asian malady, and while the bookies may be from either India or Pakistan, the players who represented bookies and carried their business forward tended to be from Pakistan. Sadly, for cricket in Asia, nothing has changed in the past decade to shake off the public perception.
However, the fact that some of those who have been caught – like Mervyn Westfield, who was induced by Kaneira into spot fixing – have been from non-Asian countries merely indicates that it was not a moral stand so much as lack of opportunity. Corruption is not a function of geography, but bookies of a feather do tend to flock together.
The post-Cronje generation of international players have been made aware of the pitfalls of fixing and keeping the company of shady characters. Ignorance, never a defence in law, is not even a possibility. Kaneira first aroused suspicion when he was seen with some bookies in India four years ago. Only three bowlers, the fast men Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, have taken more Test wickets for Pakistan than his 261.
There has been a cry in recent years to erase the records of known fixers from the books. It is not easily done; but there will be an asterisk, at least mentally, against such figures. But the depressing question is: Who next?