A sorry state of play

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST

Hansie Cronje's admission of guilt and allegations that he was involved in match-fixing set off an intense debate on the current rot in cricket.


THE game of cricket today stands tainted by the very people who strove to bring glory to it with their deeds on the field. Not everyone who stands accused of betting and match-fixing may be guilty, but the damage has been done. From here on, it will be t ough for anyone who follows this great game to say with certainty if the contest in the middle is being conducted fairly or being played out according to a pre-determined script.

Disgraced South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje's admission that he accepted money from a bookie, and allegations that he was involved in match-fixing, have at one fell stroke pushed cricket into the dark ages. Stunned by the fall from grace of one of South Africa's sporting icons, cricket administrators around the world are groping in the dark as more allegations and controversies surface with each passing day.

The image of the game has been so tarnished that even Zimbabwe's captain Andy Flower, under whose leadership the team notched up quite a few creditable victories against stronger opponents, looks at some of those victories with a modicum of suspicion. "S eemed dodgy at times," Flower was quoted as saying, of some of those wins. A captain doubting the circumstances of his own team's victory! That is about as damning a statement as any on the state of international cricket today.

The corruption of cricket by the betting syndicate has shattered the faith of millions of followers of the game. Reams of glowing accounts of the "glorious uncertainties of the game" mock at cricket writers around the world. The allegations of match-fixi ng involving Cronje make this the darkest phase of what was once considered an archetypal gentlemen's game.

There was once a time, not long ago, when the game was characterised by niceties and social graces. Opponents applauded each other's feats; fielders waited at the boundary rope for the batsmen to step off the field at the end of the day; batsmen 'walked' and bowlers did not appeal needlessly. Gradually, however, the cricketer's profile changed, with the infusion of greater professionalism and a keen competitive edge.

And then it all changed rapidly with the entry of corporate sponsorships and endorsements by players, which involved astronomical sums of money. Soon thereafter, the cricket world was eclipsed by the shadow of betting. Just when and how the cricketers go t sucked into the murky world of match-fixers is difficult to gather with certainty. But what contributed not a little to the infiltration of these shadowy elements was the excessive number of limited-overs tournaments, which mushroomed with each passing season. One-day matches, with their guaranteed-result format and the many thrilling twists and turns of fortunes, did much to keep the bookies in business. The more the number of one-day matches played, the more the betting.

JUST why has this game, which was born on the playing fields of England and has given joy to millions for more than a century, fallen into such repute in this era of the communication revolution? The answer perhaps is that it has not kept pace with moder n times and has succumbed to one of the oldest maladies that have afflicted the game.

Bookmakers were known to frequent the Lord's cricket ground more than a hundred years ago when betting was believed to be common at cricket venues in England. The Marylebone Cricket Club, which was founded in 1787 and was up until 1969 acknowledged as th e governing body of cricket in England, is known to have banned an individual in 1817 following allegations of match-fixing. One may infer therefrom that the match-fixing malady is not entirely new.

Cricket has survived controversies on earlier occasions: there were the Bodyline Series and the Packer circus. However, nothing has played havoc with the spirit of the game as has the scandal of match-fixing. The first accusation was levelled when three Australian players - Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May - alleged that Salim Malik of Pakistan had offered them $200,000 to throw matches in 1994. Nothing really came of that.

In hindsight, however, it appears that the International Cricket Council and the Australian Cricket Board must share the blame for failing to nip the problem in the bud when Warne and Waugh confessed to having had links with a bookie. The two star player s claimed that during a tournament in Sri Lanka in 1994 they had passed on information on the pitch and weather conditions to a bookie in return for cash payments. Outside of the ACB, few persons were taken in by this claim of innocence. If the Australia n cricketing authorities had punished them instead of letting them off lightly with a fine, things may not have degenerated to the current levels. Critics had noted even in 1998, when the ACB disclosed that it had fined Warne and Waugh secretly in 1995, that the punishment was rather too light.

In 1997, former Indian Test player Manoj Prabhakar went public with a sensational allegation that during that same tournament in Sri Lanka in 1994, a teammate had offered him money to throw a match.

That was just the beginning of a slew of charges. The cricketing fraternity was rocked by countless allegations from Pakistan of betting and match-fixing. A number of players, past and present, and managers and coaches alleged that the team was under the influence of match-fixers.

Over the years, many more players went public with allegations of match-fixing. Among them were Basit Ali, Rashid Latif, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Haroon Rashid, Aaqib Javed, Javed Burki, Greg Matthews, Danny Morrison, Stephen Fleming, and Adam Hollioak e...

The latest to join the list was Chris Lewis of England, who alleged he was approached by a betting syndicate to rope in Alec Stewart and Alan Mullally to throw a match. Lewis further alleged that a businessman who had approached him with the offer had fu rther said that three "household names" had already taken money to throw games.

If Pakistan earned brickbats for the role of its cricketers, it also took the lead in instituting a judicial inquiry into the match-fixing allegations two years ago with the appointment of Justice Malik Qayyum to investigate the charges. The Qayyum Commi ttee report, which has not been released, is believed to have confirmed the charges of betting and match-fixing and recommended that a couple of players be banned for life.

A similar inquiry was instituted in India by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). In the wake of Prabhakar's allegations and a growing demand for action, the Board appointed Justice Y.V. Chandrachud to conduct an inquiry. The former Chief Ju stice of India concluded, however, that the allegations were "imaginary and unrealistic" and gave a clean chit to the Indian cricketers.

The subcontinent was for long seen as a den of betting, which had begun to threaten the conduct of the game. With the amounts wagered running into hundreds of crores of rupees, it was only a matter of time before players were roped in to influence the re sult of the game. Sharjah, where a Sultan's dream ensured that cricket was played on what was once desert sand, was for long believed to be a hotbed of betting. The large numbers of Indian and Pakistani expatriates in the region and the drama of limited- overs "pyjama cricket" under floodlights made for intense excitement.

In 1991, after being forced to play a match in Sharjah in poor lighting conditions, the Indian team decided to stay away from that venue, and returned only after three years, after the playing conditions were improved.

Cricket, meanwhile, was spreading to newer venues. Next in line was Toronto, a far-from-ideal venue, where India-Pakistan contests were promoted as part of an effort to popularise the game in that part of the world. Such tournaments were known to attract high-stakes betting, which did the game no good at all.

Betting being illegal in the subcontinent, the extent of money at stake during cricket tournaments around the world was never precisely known. From time to time, there were reports of the police in India rounding up bookies and punters but nothing concre te was done to save cricket from the clutches of match-fixers - until the Delhi Police blew the lid off Hansiegate.

For quite a while now, there has been more than a hint of suspicion in respect of a few Pakistani and Sri Lankan players. At least four Indian players, past and present, have at various points of time faced specific allegations. Shockingly, however, the authorities continued to ignore the warning signals.

THE commercialisation of cricket may have done players a world of good but it also spawned negative influences as the hype surrounding the game drew undesirable elements. Televised cricket - complete with stump-cams, slow-motion action replays, intricate data analysis and viewer-friendly expert commentary - became an unending soap opera. But the biggest beneficiaries of all these influences, which served to sustain and heighten viewer enthusiasm, were the betting syndicates.

If the game has lost direction, its administrators have to bear part of the blame. In their keenness to fill the coffers, the cricket control boards in various countries packed in tight cricketing schedules. Cricket travelled to some strange venues and t he cancer of betting, as Indian cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar termed it, followed.

THE South African team that toured India recently was initially to play only three Test matches. But the schedule was subsequently changed, evidently with commercial considerations in mind. The third Test was done away with and instead five one-day match es were slotted. In the light of everything that has happened and the fact that the match-fixing charges against Hansie Cronje relate to the one-day series, that change proved costly for the South Africans, and in particular for Cronje.

Transcripts of phone coversations between Cronje and Sanjeev Chawla, a London-based Indian businessman, reveal that the South African played along with the match-fixer who was keen to influence the course of the match.

In the face of the sensational allegations, Cronje and the United Cricket Board of South Africa responded with stout denial. The South African media showed itself up in a poor light by doubting the credentials of the Delhi Police. However, a confession b y Cronje at 3 a.m. on April 11 settled the issue.

The South African cricket establishment and the public were stunned by the disclosure. Cronje was promptly suspended from the team for the one-day home series against Australia and a thorough inquiry was promised. Fans in India, meanwhile, were rocked by allegations about the involvement of some Indian cricketers too.

THE credibility of the game today is in peril, and there is no denying that cricketers will come under great pressure while performing. A minor misfielding, a rash shot, a loose ball, a run-out - any of these in the normal course of a game is bound hence forth to be viewed with grave suspicion and to draw censorious comment from cricket writers and paying spectators alike. Whether such circumspection will not altogether rob cricket of its charm, joy and sheer spontaniety is another question.

In an era when cricket is drawing encouraging response from sponsors and spectators alike, and when players are benefiting from the flow of funds into the game, the latest controversy has dealt a blow to the sport. In India, where cricketers enjoy an exa lted social status, the charges have left cricket-lovers saddened and wide-eyed.

The gangrene of betting has spread far and fast into the cricketing world, and only a surgical intervention can save the game. Cricket administrators the world over must act sternly and quickly in the interest of the game and its fans. And cricket fans w ould do well to moderate their responses to the latest controversy, distressing though it is. After all, it is still true that for every tainted cricketer, there is a Steve Waugh and a Sachin Tendulkar who can bring the passion back into the game and pro tect its character with their sterling deeds on the field.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment