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By Suresh Menon
Cricket is going through another phase of churning - this time the pointers and confessions are coming from New Zealand stars. Not only has the sport gone truly global (among its few international teams, that is), so too has gambling on it and the corresponding variations on the fixing theme. Lou Vincent is co-operating with the authorities in return for a reduced sentence for himself for indulging in fixing. The ICC is investigating 12 players from around the world who were either involved in fixing or knew of approaches but kept quiet.
In India, the Mudgal committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into fixing allegations in the IPL has now been given full investigative powers. There is the matter of the 12 names that were submitted to the Court in a sealed envelope – the names of players who needed to be investigated further.
Both Vincent and the New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum have spoken of a hero of theirs who approached them to underperform for a fee. The media have put two and two together and come up with the name of Chris Cairns. Cairns has denied any involvement. Not so long ago, he had sued Lalit Modi and won after Modi had pointed the finger at him. But the guessing game will continue, dragging through the mud some of the best known names in the game before a formal certificate of innocence (or guilt, as the case may be) is handed out to the 24 under investigation around the world.
It is easy to understand New Zealand Cricket’s ire over the Vincent and McCullum leaked by the ICC. But perhaps someone in the ICC felt that the investigations were not getting anywhere and needed to bring it to the attention of the cricketing world.
After all, authorities everywhere, from the ICC to the Board of Control for Cricket in India to the Pakistan Cricket Board have shown a reluctance to get too deep into the matter, uncertain of what might emerge. The malady might be too deep and too well entrenched in the game.
While that might be the cue for the authorities to close ranks and bury everything (remember the Australian Cricket Board’s first instinct in 1995 when the story of cricket’s bookie connection first broke was to push everything under the carpet), by that same token, it has to provoke players, journalists and those who love the game to push strongly and scrub harder to clean the game.
Modern cricket has lost its innocence. If a towel in the trousers was for long seen as the symbol that a fix was on, Lou Vincent has given us a few more signals. The colour of bat handles is one. Yet, unless the players and the Anti-Corruption and Security Units co-operate (along with the police authorities), nothing concrete will emerge. Criminal charges have to be made, the guilty have to be punished, and the deterrents must discourage the casual fixer.
There is too – as another New Zeland cricketer O’Brien – has pointed out, the matter of acting quickly. Lou Vincent is speaking of events that happened in 2008, the stories in the ICL were earlier even.
From all accounts, the nerve centre of the betting seems to be India – ironical, considering that betting is illegal in the country. Rather like drug cheats, fixers know how to stay one step ahead of the investigation. In their case, this is aided by the often lackadaisical approach to the investigation itself.
We are on the threshold of great and maybe heart-breaking revelations. Justice Mudgal’s list might surprise many. So too the ICC’s. That’s 24 individuals who may or may not be involved by acts of omission or commission in the most heinous act you can commit on a sporting field – take the glorious uncertainty out of it.
In India, we still do not have the laws in place to deal with such crimes on the sports field. This despite the fact that more than a decade ago, two India captains were banned for life for their involvement in match-fixing. As the ‘criminals’ get more sophisticated, tempt players with greater riches and spread their operations farther across the world, the investigators are stymied by lack of conviction in their governing bodies, absence of a law to deal with individuals and the fear that silences players and officials.
Lou Vincent’s plea bargain might keep him out of jail. But that is a small price to pay for understanding the contours of the problem. And it might encourage others to come forward too.