September 24, 2010

Pakistan must join the fight against match-fixing

If players need to be made an example of and kicked out of the game, so be it

In one part of the world a cricket season ends amidst rancour and relief, neither word welcome to lovers of the game. In another a new season begins amidst hope and expectation but with trust injured. India v Australia should be a cracker and there are enough people who respect sport and cricket on either side. It is a pity that we should even be thinking this way.

Over the last few weeks the word "conspiracy" has infected cricket and many of its followers. We seem to be in the company of the dark and the sinister, and also of the irrational and the volatile, and every day members of the latter tribe fill airwaves and waste newsprint. Pakistan is sadly in the grip of it, with many, including the head of their cricket, convinced there is an international plot to wound, and maybe eliminate, their cricket. Hopefully, lost in the maze, there is a point somewhere there, but there is another too that is staring at them: the cricket world does not benefit from preventing Pakistan from playing; it becomes poorer. It is easy to see.

Pakistan must join the fight against match-fixing - which they so admirably did with the Qayyum Commission - rather than live in denial. Irrespective of where they stand on the ICC rankings, they possess the players to become a major power, and at least for that reason, must join the table rather than walk away from it. Cricket needs self-policing because external authorities can only do so much. Everyone understands that you can never stop fixing, whatever nomenclature it goes by, and that is why each country must take a strong position. And that is why the deterrents must be almost brutal. If the bookie doesn't scare a cricketer the results of dealing with a bookie must.

When the game is in peril it needs strong legislation. For heaven's sake, some cricketers who bent their arms while bowling have been asked to go away till they reform; bent morals should not be difficult to punish

If that means young players have to be made an example of, so be it. Stopping a young player today, denying him his livelihood from the game, could prevent many others from heading down that path. And that is why the ICC must impose significant bans if the home association doesn't in the first place. When the game is in peril it needs strong legislation. For heaven's sake, some cricketers who bent their arms while bowling have been asked to go away till they reform; bent morals should not be difficult to punish. And in any case nobody is going to jail; they could dabble in software, become carpenters, start a business, go into politics... anything. Living life with a second-choice option is still better than many are afforded.

Luckily the Champions League was immune to all the drama. It is an ambitious tournament with its heart in the right place. It is taking time to establish itself, but in recent times only the IPL has got off the ground a winner from day one. For it to be seen as one notch above the IPL, the Champions League needs to get the right teams, and in both years there have been some ordinary entries. Evenly matched teams make for good contests and in the years ahead that should be the first priority. It may also not be a bad idea for the rules to allow non-IPL teams to hire Indian or other overseas players for the Champions League. Sehwag playing for the Victoria Bushrangers is no different from Kallis playing for the Royal Challengers. But the tournament has brought joy to many and in troubled times that is good.

Within a week some of these players will not just be shedding coloured clothes for white ones, they will also be packing away some exotic shots for more orthodox ones. Innings building will again become a priority. Dravid will not look to loft over long-off if he is kept quiet for a couple of overs, and Dhoni will not have to worry about Super Overs. It should be fun as long as we keep conspiracy theories away from it and fixing matches becomes as difficult as fixing taps and roofs at the Commonwealth Games!

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator with the BCCI and a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here