A fair job with a gaping hole

Print edition : June 09, 2001

The Sir Paul Condon report on match-fixing in cricket makes a sincere evaluation of the corruption that has spoiled the game but falls short of naming the culprits.

HIS words were impassioned. During a press conference in Chennai last December, Sir Paul Condon, the anti-corruption commissioner of the International Cricket Council, wasted little time in signalling that he was a well-intentioned man.

Sir Paul Condon, the anti-corruption commissioner of the ICC.-MOHSIN RAZA/ REUTERS

He spoke about watching a bunch of young boys play the game, and telling himself that these budding stars should be left uncorrupted. Cricket was close to the heart to this former police chief from London.

Sir Paul was distressed by the match-fixing scandal, was aware of the enormous responsibility vested on him in June 2000 as the anti-corruption commissioner, was determined to root out the evil, was proud of his cell's independence from the ICC, and yet was conscious of his limitations.

The evil that has left no part of the cricketing world untouched was too huge for a group of individuals to correct, however committed they might be. They were up against a mafia, known to be ruthless, efficient and clever.

Moreover, legal complexities abounded, including threats of defamation suits by players. Some others were reluctant to tell the truth, for they feared physical harm. There was also the spectre of tainted cricketers turning to their lawyers to stall proceedings.

The truth could emerge from a chunk of secret accounts in the obscure Canary Islands, but then, it is a slippery slope all the way. Former English all-rounder Ian Botham recently spoke about huge sums of money being at stake during Test matches and he could not have been closer to the truth. The money involved is far more than a few thousands.

In other words, the task required more than the magic of words.

SIR PAUL'S much-awaited 80-page interim report on malpractices in cricket was made public in May. The report has found that match-fixing was rampant not too long ago and, despite the recent measures taken by the ICC and the various boards, still continues.

"Just the tip of the iceberg," Sir Paul says about facts that have so far emerged from the cricket's murky underbelly. Disturbing news indeed, but did we all not know it before?

Given the odds Sir Paul was up against, it must be said that he has done a fair job. Yet the only way to take the investigation forward is to name the culprits and take things to their logical conclusion - that is, punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent.

And this is precisely the gaping hole in Sir Paul's findings. He makes it abundantly clear that corruption has eroded the game's credibility and raps the ICC for not reacting swiftly enough, but does not name those suspected to be involved.

Former England captain Raymond Illingworth hit the nail on the head when he said, "Unless they name names, there is nothing that can be done about it. At the end of the day, they're spending millions of dollars on the inquiry, but they have got no names to show for it."

Indeed, the ICC now has egg on its face, with men like Alec Stewart, Brian Lara, Mark Waugh and Wasim Akram, all accused of accepting money from bookmakers, still active in international cricket.

Here, the ICC has shown itself to be weak-kneed. Had it dropped players who are under a cloud of suspicion from international matches, it would have enhanced its credibility. Instead, cricket's apex governing body stands exposed.

In South Africa, things have become rather hilarious with Herchelles Gibbs, who admitted to colluding with Indian bookies, bouncing back into the international arena as swiftly as he was banned. If this is the way things go, then there would be a whole lot of young cricketers succumbing to the temptation!

In fact, the King Commission headed by Judge Edwin King, which started so promisingly, fizzled out rather tamely after the lawyers of Hansie Cronje, the disgraced former South African captain, challenged King's right to chair the proceedings following a ruling in the South African constitutional court that a Judge could not be the head of a special committee. Some of the cricketers against whom investigations were on, were exonerated. So much for getting to the bottom of the truth.

COMING back to Sir Paul's report, he paints a rather grim picture and refers to the Indian betting industry as "the engine room which has powered and driven cricket corrosion" He talks about a major criminal who has access to an international team and wields considerable influence over the performance and selection of players. Is the reference here to Dawood Ibrahim? Sir Paul then dwells on the kidnapping and murder of a bookie in South Africa, which could be directly linked to the scandal.

With the culture of violence and crime casting its ugly shadow over cricket, no wonder there are not too many who are willing to talk. "My unit has met a number of people, who in my opinion were genuinely frightened of the consequences if it became known that they were cooperating with the anti-corruption unit," said Sir Paul.

"The prevailing climate of silence, apathy, ignorance, fear" at the heart of the game has already caused enough harm and it is time the ICC swung into action.

It is important that players are educated and made aware of the evils of match-fixing, Sir Paul says. They should be trained to resist temptations. But this is easier said than done in these days when international cricket is fuelled by market forces.

Ian Botham did not mince his words when he said, "Over the last three decades there have been some strange results, but also once these people get their fingers into you there's no escaping. You can't walk away and say, 'I've had enough of this, thank you very much for the half a million dollars I've just made.' It doesn't work that way. So when these guys want a favour, they expect it to be done, and there are severe consequences if they don't."

To his credit, Sir Paul has made some well-thought out recommendations to check the menace - such as having a full time security manager for every team to prevent bookies from interacting with players, restricting the use of mobile phones during a cricket match, reducing the number of one-day matches, paying the cricketers more, removing the disparities in the salaries and contracts of cricketers from various countries as it creates jealousy, and avoiding neutral venues like Sharjah, Toronto and Singapore, where under the cover of a carnival atmosphere players are lured into corrupt practices. From the Indian standpoint, the reference to Sharjah is significant.

Although Sir Paul comes down heavily on the betting 'industry' in India, he believes 'match-fixing' first originated on the English county scene way back in the 1970s, when captains of rival teams contrived to arrive at a result suitable to both teams. Money may not have been a factor then, but all the same it was match-fixing.

Over the years, Sir Paul observes, illegal bets were placed on virtually every aspect of the game. Among them are the outcome of the toss, the end from which the fielding captain would choose to bowl, the number of no balls or wides in an over, players being stationed in unfamiliar positions, runs a batsman makes (does he score more than the player in the same slot in the other team?), the timing of the declaration, the totals, and the progress of an innings. These are factors that might not influence the course of a match directly, but is definitely 'player fixing' or 'situation fixing'.

Sir Paul believes that, despite some of the measures taken to prevent match-fixing the scourge continues, in a smaller way though. "A couple of matches in many of the recent series could have been tainted," he notes. Among them was the Pakistan-New Zealand series in New Zealand. Pakistan, after taking an initial lead, went down 2-3, and a furious coach Javed Miandad resigned, alleging match-fixing by some of the leading players in the team. Later, Miandad, probably under pressure, retracted the match-fixing allegations. Sir Paul appears far from convinced though.

Once a series is decided, the rest of the games become particularly vulnerable to the machinations of the bookies since there is little else but pride at stake, says Sir Paul. He adds that the onus was on the individual boards to be more vigilant. He also advocates two ICC panel umpires for all international matches.

The former police officer has a word of appreciation for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and K. Madhavan, the BCCI's own anti-corruption commissioner, who have together done a commnedable job with the investigations.

The inquiry conducted by Madhavan, a fearless, forthright officer belonging to the old school, was certainly no 'whitewash' affair. There was considerable pressure on him to go soft on Ajay Jadeja, one of the accused players, who has strong political connections, yet the former CBI Joint Director refused to bend. Contrast the five-year ban on Jadeja with the light sentence for Gibbs and the difference becomes obvious.

Credit is also due to the BCCI President, A.C. Muthiah, who took control of the Board at a very difficult time but has seldom looked the other way when up against a challenge. A man of few words, he did not bite the bullet when it came to handling the match-fixing crisis.

Still a lot more needs to be done. Forget the one-dayers, India figures in several Test matches that are termed 'doubtful' - such as India-Pakistan (Calcutta, 1979), India-England (Calcutta, 1992-93), India-Australia (Delhi, 1996-97), India-West Indies (Bridgetown, 1997), India-South Africa (Bangalore, 2000). It would be particularly depressing if the Bridgetown Test was tainted, since India, with a chance to score a rare away series win, was bundled out for less than 100 runs.

Welcoming Sir Paul's findings, Pakistan Cricket Board chief Lt. Gen. Tauquir Zia, said: "We are definitely going to cooperative with the ICC." And he has quite a job on his hands with the ICC anti-corruption commissioner raising doubts about two World Cup matches of 1999, which Pakistan played against Bangladesh and India.

Sir Paul seems to have evoked a favourable response in Pakistan, as was evident during his recent four-day visit to the country. During the tour, he said: "I have drawn from experience from over the world in an attempt to complete the jigsaw puzzle. Sadly, a small measure of malpractice still exists. Cricket is a game of skill, courage, honour, luck and, of course, weather. It's not about mobile phones and shady deals."

Meanwhile, Australian Cricket Board (ACB) chairman Malcolm Speed called the report "an important step in the ongoing fight against corruption. I think it is a valuable document in that it is the first time we had an independent source, an independent inquiry, and gone right through the issue of corruption in the cricketing world." However, by continuing to select Mark Waugh, the ACB, which has a forgettable track-record in this area, has fallen short again.

Ditto with Lord McLaurin, Chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board. "You can't suspend people for six or eight months. They come back and the game can do without them," he says. Talk to him about Alec Stewart, and his lips are sealed. The point is that if the respective boards protect their own players, match-fixing will return to haunt the game. Ideally, the cricketers named by the bookies should be suspended until their names are cleared. This would also put the needed pressure on the authorities to act fast.

Sir Paul notes that the ICC must be made more independent and accountable. The same holds good for the respective Boards. And the fight against malpractices in cricket is not a 100-metre sprint, according to this distinguished police chief: "It's a marathon."

He is right. The road ahead is long and difficult, but the reward at the end of it all could be fulfilling - cricket could be 'clean' again.

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