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Another reality check

The message for an increasingly vulnerable sport is that it must act - and act decisively

Sharda Ugra

May 17, 2013

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Alleged suspects in the IPL spot-fixing case are brought to a court in Delhi, IPL 2013, Delhi, May 16, 2013
A big shake-up: the arrested cricketers were paraded along with the bookies on their way to court in Delhi © AFP
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Yet again. The Delhi Police and phone conversations allegedly involving cricketers and bookies. Allegations of promises made to the bookies in exchange for cash, and allegations of promises kept. The moment it was discovered the Delhi Police were involved in a case of alleged cricket-fixing, the reverberations of the Hansie Cronje saga of 13 years ago were heard in dismal echo.

Except, much murky water has passed under that particular bridge and this time the Delhi Police took one more definitive step.

What will have shaken the Indian cricket establishment - and the IPL's governors and support staff - is the arrest of the players. An Indian Test bowler and two first-class cricketers were picked up in the early hours of the morning from three different locations in Mumbai, flown to Delhi, and were charged a few hours later with fraud, cheating and criminal conspiracy. Later, for good measure, they were paraded along with the bookies who allegedly helped them. The kind of stuff that traditionally happens only to gangsters, conmen and hoods on the run.

Outside Indian cricket - and the devastated Rajasthan Royals team - there is little shock at the fact that the police produced enough evidence to arrest the three. More a resigned weariness and only mild surprise at the identity of the players involved. With many shakes of the head at the possible waste of a talent called Sreesanth.

Post-Cronje, international cricket has tried to seal off entry points for the illegal betting mafia. Through the introduction of T20 leagues, however, an even more vulnerable one has opened. Of these leagues the IPL is the biggest and the richest; its compressed whirl of high-volume, high-intensity, result-oriented cricket was a punter's delight. Naturally the mafia would jump in - what kind of crook resists temptation?

T20 has, in fact, simplified their business. Controlling the outcome of a game is not the most profitable end - there are dozens of options, as bets are placed in slabs or sessions or spots, and to get those in a bookie's favour means finding no more than a couple of allies, even if the most low-profile. In a T20 match, one bad over - or a slow pattern of scoring - can turn the course of a match. Spot-fixing may appear a minor subsidiary of match-fixing, a lesser offence, but pick the spot to get fixed and the outcome of a match can follow suit.

What the IPL, the BCCI and all of cricket could do with now is a stiff dose of reality and acceptance that the bigger the money, the bigger the lure, and that organised crime knows how to get its foot in the door.

The sting operations of 2012 by television channels may have been mocked as media creations, but there were signals right there that the IPL's ecosystem could be easily breached. A year later, the Delhi Police have provided the evidence.

After these arrests, Indian cricket must acknowledge that it will be in a constant battle against the illegal betting industry. The notion of a teflon-coated "cleanliness" in a world of wealth and glamour is self-destructive and defeating.

Acceptance of the IPL's own frailty can turn the weakness into a strength if resources are put into working actively and constantly with official law enforcement. FIFA, faced with its own considerable problems of fixing in football, has taken a step in this direction by entering into a partnership with Interpol. Cricket's own anti-corruption authorities may be doing their best but only real policemen have the legal authority to keep the sport on its toes by tapping phones, tracing money, asking uncomfortable questions. In time, all the time - because the betting mafia doesn't go on holiday.

If the IPL is to cling to its credibility, the BCCI must ask for help from the outside. Great wealth usually leads to great power, but neither serves as protection when integrity is under threat. Only maturity and humility does.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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