May 26, 2013

What makes players cheat?

Getting away with deceit can provide a certain high. For some, the rewards of cheating will always outweigh the potential consequences

As the story of spot-fixing gets deeper and dirtier, I am reminded of the seemingly unsullied early 1990s, when mobile phones hadn't yet become indispensable. Those were the days when the business of betting was made to look unintentional.

When the Indian team travelled overseas during this time, rich expat Indians in the countries the team went to would host lavish dinner parties for the players. The world hadn't become the global village it is today, and most young Indian players, with meagre daily allowances, craved home food when abroad. That's when these expatriates came to their rescue. Home cooked dal-roti made players happy and gave their hosts bragging rights for a lifetime.

Most such dinners ended with players getting parting gifts. While some of the top players invariably received expensive presents, like branded watches and perfume, the not-so-consequential ones were mostly gifted souvenirs or miniature replicas of the city's most famous monuments. Such exchanges were the beginning of friendships - which would sometimes later go on to raise eyebrows - between these rich expats and a few established Indian cricketers.

In Indian cricket lingo, these contacts were referred to as "mamus" (uncles). Many of the top players of the time had such benefactors in nearly every city that hosted cricket around the world. It wouldn't be far-fetched to assume that some of these casual interactions could have led to something more disturbing, for no one ever took the pains to conduct thorough background checks on these expats before visiting their houses or taking favours from them.

Would you think twice before telling a friend whether you were going to enforce the follow-on, or what the likely playing XI for tomorrow's game would be?

It may not have been how it started, but the ease with which interested parties could have access to cricketers made fixing a simple and risk-free job.

That's a thing of the past, for the modern Indian cricketer is not only more aware but also rich enough to not need such favours. No wonder such informal dinner invitations have been on the wane, and even when they come along, most players give them a miss. Pizzas and burgers have replaced dal-roti - not the best diet for a player's health, but it has helped to keep the game healthy, mostly!

Now an Indian player is expected to be not as easily accessible or as gullible. But while some comprehend the ramifications of match- and spot-fixing, and hence keep away, there are a few who like to play with fire. What makes them susceptible to cheating? What makes them jeopardise their lives and careers? It can't just be that they are silly.

The fact that domestic cricketers don't get paid as much as their international colleagues makes them easy prey. The lack of interest in first-class cricket more or less kept betting away from the domestic game. But with the coming of the ICL, followed closely by the IPL, lesser-known players from the Ranji Trophy emerged from enforced obscurity; almost overnight, the IPL turned them into stars. What a life of playing first-class cricket couldn't give them, an innings in an IPL match did.

It's true that just as an artist craves recognition, a sportsman yearns for spectators. While the IPL satiated these players' appetite for appreciation, there were also repercussions. I've seen many talented young cricketers losing perspective after just a season under the arc lights. They earned big bucks in the first season but spent it all soon after and were at a loss about how to fund their new, expensive lifestyles.

While the BCCI tried hard to control uncapped players' aspirations with regards to the IPL, franchise owners refused to play ball. They weren't shy of offering a little more than the ceiling set by the BCCI. It resulted in Ravindra Jadeja getting banned for a year and Manish Pandey for four games. Unfortunately the franchisees negotiating these illegal deals went scot-free.

Television is a very powerful medium and when a current player sees past offenders taking up various roles in the media and administration, he tends to think that legitimacy is only a few years away

A couple of years ago, a young Ranji Trophy team-mate of mine, playing his first first-class season, was approached by an agent with an offer of Rs 1 crore as a minimum guarantee fee for signing up with his agency. It was an offer too good to be true. The player discussed the offer with me and I cautioned him straightaway, for I hadn't heard about the agency. Fortunately, he listened to me and didn't sign up. In lots of such cases though, either the player doesn't ask for advice or chooses not to listen. There are many such dubious characters in the garb of agents waiting for the right prey to pounce on. They are a version of the mamus of the '90s; the informal dinners have been substituted with meetings over coffee or a meal in a posh hotel.

The difference between being honest and dishonest is the fear of getting caught and its consequences. Chances are that if a player has got away with fraud once, he'll try it again. He'll become bolder each time. In such cases, the company he keeps and the influences they create matter too.

Unfortunately, for some, the rewards of cheating, especially in sport (in return for money) outweigh the enormity of the consequences.

A desperate desire to win at all costs, and fear of losing, not only point towards a systemic failure but also degeneration of the self.

Perhaps we must also review our understanding of sport - games mustn't turn into battles and sportspersons mustn't become demi-gods.

Television is a very powerful medium, and when a current player sees past offenders taking up various roles in the media and administration, he tends to think that legitimacy is only a few years away.

Cheating and getting away with it can also give you a high a sinister kind, and the fact that you could control the result of an over or a game gives you a sense of power. Lying or cheating is tough only the first time. Lance Armstrong is a classic example of how lies become audacious. He was so confident of never being caught that he sued people who called him a cheat.

Can this menace be curbed entirely? Even the most optimistic answer is no. Sport will always be susceptible to cheats and cheating. You may pay a player a million dollars more than he deserves, but it won't guarantee honesty. Keeping one's word, telling the truth, being fair, are individual choices. You choose to lead an ethical life, or not.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on May 28, 2013, 19:56 GMT

    The more interesting question would be what makes us more fixated with players' cheating than with the cheating by our officers?

  • Kannan on May 27, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    People cheat only because they think can get away. In India, simple conventional prison terms will not deter criminals. Like so many western culture borrowings, this is ineffective and hardly a deterrent. The only way to deter criminality is to shame the criminals in public in their own neighbourhood. Disgrace and humiliation to "family honor" is the only way, and a very simple way to keep people in line.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2013, 8:19 GMT

    Can Life time pension to every First Class player resolve this problems?

  • Krishnamurthy on May 27, 2013, 1:15 GMT

    The MVP, The orange Cap and the Purple Cap all went to foreigners. India Players have got Spot fixing. IPL is an entertainment for Indian and the young Indian players. Do we really think IPL will produce world class player from India? The standard of foreign country first class matches is way ahead of our tournaments. Players like Gavaskar, Sachin, Dravid came from our time tested regular tournaments. IPL is another market for foreign multi nationals.

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 21:09 GMT

    Its all very sad. Unfortunately you cannot mentor or teach honesty. This comes from the value system, which one adopts very early in life. One is seeing the destruction of a beautiful game.

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    In my generation, too, people cheated, even though there was monetary inducement. You must be right, Mr Chopra, cheating must give some a high!

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 10:23 GMT

    Honesty and integrity cannot be taught. Either one has been brought up that way and have lived upto the ideals set in your own life OR one can always fall into the trap. The IPL is based on the "buying" of players like commodities and the price paid may not necessarily be commensurate to one's talent. But those who are on the fringe can easily lured or caught into the web. A cricketer true to the spirit of the game will never fall onto the trap. It is ultimately one's choice. Whether it is cricket or w even braking the common laws like in traffic, one always feels what's wrong if I can get away without getting caught!

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 8:55 GMT

    "Television is a very powerful medium, and when a current player sees past offenders taking up various roles in the media and administration, he tends to think that legitimacy is only a few years away". This is so true..painfully true I would add. There are no repercussions against offenders. Its a revolving door of administrators, betting offenders, fixers and other pleasant folks.

  • ian on May 26, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    The leap from poverty & obscurity to cricketing fame & the head-turning rewards that come with it, esp. in India via the IPL is an issue that urgently needs addressing. The talented individuals involved are easy game for the unscrupulous & predatory city fixers. They are invariably smooth operators, prepared to laugh & joke at will, capable of small acts that apparently demonstrate trust & commitment to the unsuspecting young player, while all the time they are drawing him into their webs of corruption that lead to the destruction of the young player's future. This much, I think, is well understood; it is, indeed, the crux of the problem. Now comes the solution. No player should be left to fend for himself. There should be proper, centrally appointed (Dear God, not by the BCCI as currently constituted!) mamus who are held responsible for the conduct of the young star & he, the star, must defer every financial decision/deal to his mentor. Ex players, like you, Aakash, should volunteer!