Corruption in cricket August 14, 2013

Bangladesh cricket's battle against corruption

Despite measures put in place, changes still need to be made to the cricket culture, where domestic players are unwilling to come forward since they depend on cricket to put food on the table

Till January 2013, knowledge and awareness of anti-corruption measures in Bangladesh cricket had been limited to international cricketers. The domestic cricketers' first educational programme on this aspect came after BCB enforced its anti-corruption code from January 15, 2013, four days ahead of the Bangladesh Premier League. It is easy to deduce that most professional cricketers in Bangladesh were in the dark before 112 of them took the class. But given the heavy suspicion of corruption over decades, measures should have been taken long ago.

The BCB's own ACSU wouldn't have been put in place had it not been for the ICC to direct all cricket boards to have its own ACSU and anti-doping codes last year. The BCB had not instructed players in the past regarding corruption in the game, although anti-corruption education had its place in the coaching documents in the country's first High Performance (HP) unit almost a decade ago. But Bangladesh cricket was desperate to find talented players and make international players fit for that level at the time, and these subjects fell by the wayside.

Richard McInnes, head of Bangladesh's National Cricket Academy, who was in charge of the HP programme in 2003, continues to put in the core values in the country's future cricketers just as he had done a decade ago.

"We have certain values and expected standards of behaviour here," McInnes told ESPNcricinfo in June. "We talk to the players about such values, and try to reinforce all the time. They're based around honesty, integrity, good work ethic, being responsible and cooperating with other people. It is a whole range of things, which I suppose are socially acceptable ways to operate in a group environment.

"We had these same things [material on anti-corruption] in 2004 when I was here. No one picked up on it, no one really took notice. Everyone focused on the training, but we had values and systems in place. We talked about the same things back then. Of course, corruption [back then] wasn't as prevalent or getting as much media coverage."

There is just some difference between McInnes' material at the HP programme and the education programme, particularly as the classes held before the BPL focused on a wide range of issues including how approaches are made by spot-fixers and what to do when bookies come calling. Back then, it was still a theoretical approach.

It would be difficult to show evidence of corruption in Bangladesh cricket, particularly in the Dhaka leagues. But almost every season there are newspaper reports on suspicious matches, and not many of these stories have been challenged by those accused. But not a single match has been investigated by the BCB, chiefly because of the lack of evidence. The country's most popular domestic cricket competition is the Dhaka Premier Divisional Cricket League, but there too has been no effort to put cameras on the field.

The Dhaka University cricket ground has been a hotbed for betting gangs for years. They sit throughout the lower league matches and quite openly offer players (mostly those fielding near the boundary) monetary benefits. It is a classic case of spread-betting, which umpires and cricket officials watch helplessly as the match progresses

Corruption has been difficult to weed out even when it has been practiced openly. The Dhaka University cricket ground has been a hotbed for betting gangs for years. They sit throughout the lower league matches and quite openly offer players (mostly those fielding near the boundary) monetary benefits. It is a classic case of spread-betting, which umpires and cricket officials watch helplessly as the match progresses.

While the BCB doesn't own this ground, it takes control of it during the cricket season and has often deployed security during crucial games. But since there hasn't been any anti-corruption measure till last season, there was no effort to usher out the bettors from the ground situated in central Dhaka.

There has never been a reported case of players being influenced by these gangs, but whether these incidents or those that were investigated in the second edition of the BPL have had an impact, the focus has been on the players. Mushfiqur Rahim has called the Mohammad Ashraful confession as a "loss of pride" for all Bangladesh players while other top-officials within the BCB have asked players to make wise choices in the future.

"It comes down to individual's choices," said BCB's acting CEO Nizamuddin Ahmed in June. "We have educated 112 players ahead of this season's BPL. Someone like Mohammad Ashraful has sat through numerous awareness programmes by the ACSU ahead of various tours and series."

This was echoed by McInnes, someone who has seen more of Bangladeshi cricketers than any other foreign coach. "At the end of the day though, each individual makes their own choice. We [at the Academy] also talk about choices a lot. In every situation you have a choice, whether positive or negative which can help or hinder your career. We talk about simple things like what food they eat," said McInnes.

He also pointed out that Bangladesh has a unique cricketing structure where the professional system runs all the way down to the third rung and elaborated on the pressures of playing in such a system, where cricket is the be all and end all for a large number of players.

"One of the unique things in Bangladesh is that a lot of people make a living by playing cricket. In Australia, for example, unless you are in the top 120 players in the country, you pay to play cricket. Out of the 120, some of them don't make very much.

"Maybe that's part of the problem. So many people rely on cricket to put food on the table, whereas everyone in Australia knows they have to get a job or go to university," he said.

The payment is one-time, on a per season basis, and players are often underpaid because clubs are reluctant to give money when the team or the player does badly during the course of a season. The lack of a professional structure hinders players' awareness of a lot of problems, particularly because he is always focused on getting that yearly income. The players are held hostage by the clubs through this unscrupulous scheme, and who is to say that these players would do what clubs ask them to do?

It could be the lack of awareness among the cricketers on the ways to report corruption in the game, but when the general mood towards corruption has been to ignore it there is only so much that the players can do.

The BCB has set up a hotline, a fax number and email address to report any approaches or related incidents, but it will take some time for the process to be fully understood by the average professional who plays in the various leagues across the country. Young cricketers are unlikely to warm up to the idea, because they wouldn't want to ruffle any feathers, especially because their future would depend on a particular club.

Both at the top and at the root, Bangladesh cricket has to foster major cultural changes, and accept a bit of reality.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here