The Rot in Cricket

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST

FOR some time now, there has been a feeling abroad that something has gone wrong with cricket. This suspicion has related especially to the one day variant that seems to bear the same relation to a traditional game of sophistication and 'glorious uncerta inty' that the flamboyant, dumbing-down, lower-order musical genius of Wladziu Valentino Liberace (1919-87) has borne to the performance of the western classical repertoire. In fact, international cricket has not merely been Liberaced to a farcical exten t, where many over-fed players do not seem to care a great deal about the quantity and quality of their performances but play in some kind of haze. It has become a corrupt game where venality and greed - fostered and fed by a powerful alliance of globali sing forces - set the standards for young folks to a disturbing degree.

Although a feeling of suspicion has been hovering about the game for the greater part of a decade and there have even been some intimations of corruption (notably the admitted 1994 payments made to Shane Warne and Mark Waugh by an unidentified Indian boo kmaker, the reports published in the media in various countries of cricketers sought to be bribed on behalf of bookmakers, and the undisclosed incriminating material claimed to have been discovered by the Qayyum commission of inquiry in Pakistan against several top Pakistani cricketers), it seemed to add up to little evidence and less action. It was as though the national cricket boards and the International Cricket Council (ICC) were either powerless or complicit in the face of the spreading rot and th e corrupt were assured a regime of immunity from both serious investigation and prosecution. Now there has been a breakthrough event for world cricket - the splendidly fortuitous investigative breakthrough made by the Delhi Police that promises, virtuall y for the first time anywhere, to turn up prosecutable evidence and has probably ended the playing career of a cricketing idol, Hansie Cronje. What is clear now is that the rot in cricket is deep as well as widespread and that no cricket-playing country is safe from it if current attitudes continue.

The rot encompasses a range of delinquencies and offences involving players, bookmakers, businessmen and possibly various others involved at the top levels of cricket. All of them involve breaches of professional ethics and codes of conduct; several of t hem involve actionable legal offences, including income tax fraud. The corrupt practices include insider trading (giving information on pitches, team selection, team strategy and tactics, 'weather' conditions (!) and so forth to bookmakers or their repre sentatives, almost always for a consideration, the kind of offence that Warne and Mark Waugh confessed to and got away lightly with in 1995); taking money from bookmakers to influence the course of matches, including fixing up or corrupting other players (what the Hansiegate tapes in the custody of the Delhi Police reportedly reveal); taking valuable gifts (such as expensive cars) from bookmakers and undisclosed persona; maintaining a player-bookmaker nexus, with the use of key intermediaries (who may b e players or others); betting by players, umpires, officials and event managers on matches they or their countries are involved in (believed to be rampant in world cricket); and in the extreme case, 'match-fixing', including the throwing of matches at th e instance of bookmakers, punters or other interested parties for a hefty bribe.

What has also come to light is the centrality of South Asia, chiefly India and Pakistan, in this opportunistic racket dominated by powerful underground betting syndicates and benefiting from information technology and global television - in which every p layer, official, journalist and operator who claims proximity to the inside track is seen as a target by the corrupting nexus and must resist temptation at every step if he is to maintain integrity. Betting on cricket in India, which press reports estima te to be of the order of Rs.10,000 million annually, encompasses betting on match outcomes but perhaps more importantly 'spread betting' on discrete events (who will win the toss, who will open the bowling? how much will Herchell Gibbs score, under 20? h ow many wickets will so-and-so take? how many sixes will so-and-so hit?).

The report of the ICC Code of Conduct Commission headed by Lord Griffiths, which came out recently, clearly dealt with inadequate evidence. It showed a touching faith in the white-washing Chandrachud inquiry into media allegations of betting and match-fi xing by Indian cricketers; and hardly addressed the seriousness of the delinquency involved in the Australian case. However, unlike the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), it did focus on the need to proscribe insider betting on cricket as much as on the need to take stern action against the taking of bribes from bookmakers or maintaining a nexus or corrupting contacts with them. In fact, the ICC Code of Conduct for Players & Team Officials provides that players and team officials shall not be t on "any Match or series of Matches, or on any event connected with any Match or series of Matches ('Event'), in which such players, umpire, referee, team official or administrator took part or in which the Member Country of any such individual was repr esented" and shall not "induce or encourage" others to bet or enter into any form of "financial speculation" on any Match or any Event. It recommends further that the ICC Code of Conduct be amended to make non-reporting of bookmakers' overtures a punisha ble offence for players and advises national cricket boards to caution players severely against betting.

THE deep rot in cricket calls for three broad lines of action in India. The first is serious professional investigation into the allegations and evidence (as distinct from 'inquiries' by toothless commissions), which must not, wherever investigati vely necessary, avoid looking into the assets, bank accounts and lifestyles of players, cricket officials, umpires, match referees and others under suspicion. The second line of action must be bringing immediately cleansing regulation, including a n enforceable code of conduct and binding contracts (between the Board and the players) that require full financial disclosure to an independent ethics panel set up by the Board. Thirdly, the BCCI, its member cricket associations and other bodies associated with cricket must offer a positive programme of orientation and counselling for young players to underline the imperative need for playing integrity and to make it clear that both betting on cricket and accepting payments or favours from bookmakers for any purpose would, if detected, guarantee severe punishment, in fact an end to their playing career.

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