The insidious allure of spot-fixing
Another cricketing scandal is upon us.Well, the incorrigibility of Pakistan cricket is not new, so let us stop flogging that particular dead horse (after all, we know the usual round of bans, cover-ups, appeals, and reinstatements awaits us down the line) and move on to thinking about why spot-fixing is even more dangerous than match-fixing in many ways.
Most importantly, spot-fixing promises a wonderful two-fer for the morally wavering cricketer: a chance to get rich while preserving one's sense of integrity. For in spot-fixing, you don't throw the game. As Cricinfo's helpful guide to spot-fixing points out,
Spot fixing is about getting players/officials to act in a specified predefined manner at a particular time or during a particular session of a match, with or without adversely affecting the overall outcome of the game.
A player can easily reassure himself that he won't compromise his team's result; all he'll do to clean up a little pocket money for himself is take a small action that should have no bearing on the overall outcome. That done, he can get back to normal business.
But of course, it doesn't work that way. Once you are committed to spot-fixing, you are distracted. Rather than thinking about line, length, and dismissal strategies, you are thinking about the number of balls bowled, the no-ball that has to be delivered, the fat pad of bills waiting for you. When warming up before the start of play, a player's thoughts aren't exclusively concentrated on limbering up and hunkering down, they are thinking back to the precise nature of the deal that was struck, on thinking about the next phone call that might show up with a new deal for the morning session, for the post-tea bowling change. When the player is back at the hotel, he might have more business to attend to, more details to be sorted out.
Spot-fixing isn't about fixing the outcome; it is about micro-managing the little atoms that make up a match, the individual deliveries. As such, while it is ostensibly about staying away from global reach, it pervades the entire proceedings, especially if many players are involved in it. The smaller the fixed event, the more numerous their occurrence, until the rot is pervasive. And indeed, given the micro-managed state of affairs there is a greater logistical overhead.
In the end, the game's outcome becomes irrelevant, because it has been transformed into a placeholder for all the various "spots", all the little "fixes".
For the players, the temptation is tremendous: do what you do normally with just a few exceptions and clean up handsomely. But like all Faustian bargains, this one takes a great deal more from the players than it gives. They might imagine that their integrity has not been compromised; but in fact, it has been, even more fundamentally and invidiously than ever before.
Fixing hasn't gone away; fixers haven't; and neither have players who succumb to temptation. But most sadly, what also remains constant are managerial entities that are determined not to clean their Augean stables.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here