The monster of betting, gambling and match-fixing in cricket rose its head about a decade ago and caught in its jaws many cricketers of the world. The players on whom the allegations were levelled directly or indirectly belonged to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia. While the other countries swept the problem under the carpet, the Pakistan Cricket Board was the only one to take the issue seriously. With the intention of rooting out the evil that was destroying the glamour of cricket, the PCB did not only appoint inquiry committees to investigate into the matter but also referred the case to the Lahore High Court for judicious handling and a fair verdict.
Reviewing the battle of allegations and counter allegations, comments and controversies appearing in the press about the past incidents, one finds that no case was as startling as the one lodged by the Indian police against the South African captain Hansie Cronje and his teammates, Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje and Peter Strydom. The allegations of match-fixing during their last one-day series in India, levelled against them have shocked the cricket lovers all over the globe. The cricket world was rocked by betting and match-fixing charges already but this is the first time that fingers have been pointed at South African players. The case is considered to be so serious that the charges of criminal conspiracy, fraud and match-fixing have been registered against the players considering it a big international crime. The Indian authorities are also contemplating to seek the help of Interpol in the matter.
The crime was detected when on a tip off, the New Delhi police bugged the mobile as well as room telephones of the South African team. Two Indian businessmen Sanjay Chawla settled in England and Rajesh Kalra based in Delhi are said to be involved in the scandal Mr. Rajesh Kalra has been arrested and placed under police remand. The police believes that a sum of as much as $400,000/- changed hands in the operation. An audio-tape that recorded a conversation between Sanjay Chawla and Hansie Cronje whose transcript has been released to the press forms the basis of the whole episode.
As a first reaction to the scandal Hansie Cronje termed the charges as "absolute rubbish." He thought that the South African players had too much pride in their own performance to contemplate accepting bribes to influence results. The Managing Director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, Ali Bacher regarded Cronje as a man known for his unquestionable honesty and integrity. He also emphasized that no South African player had ever been involved in match-fixing. Former South African captain Kepler Wessels expressed the view that the evil of match-fixing was rife in cricket and the biggest mistake that South Africa could make would be to try and sweep it under the carpet without an investigation. South Africa should conduct an independent inquiry in the matter not involving anyone from the cricket board.
Commenting on the issue Australian captain Steve Waugh was of the view that "players found guilty of match-fixing allegations should not be allowed to continue playing". Former Indian captain and master batsman Sunil Gavaskar followed suit in much stronger words. He said, "the image of the game should be saved from such people. Take away every run, wicket and catch from those involved in the match-fixing. If found guilty, none should be spared, past or present." Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya, President of the International Cricket Council, when approached for his comments, said that since the matter had not yet been officially reported to the ICC, it was too early for the world body to comment on the issue. "We have our own way of working. We will cross the bridge when we come to it", he added.
The charges relate to the one-day series between India and South Africa played between March 9-19 that ended in an unexpected 3-2 victory for India. The Indians shell-shocked after a dismal tour of Australia went into the one-dayers having lost both the Tests to Cronje's men in the home series. Yet the Indians made a "dramatic recovery" to win the one-day series against one of the most formidable teams in the game. Graham Ford, coach of the South African team, also denied the charges saying that they were never approached by any gambling syndicate. Trevor chesterfield, a renowned journalist, refutes the charges on the ground that both voices in the tape are of Indian origin. The voice that was supposed to be of Cronje did not have a South African accent. As the case progresses, this would perhaps be the most vital point in South Africans' defence.
The Indian businessman Rajash Kalra arrested for allegedly trying to bribe the South Africans is said to have revealed that the series was fixed for $400,000/- to $500,000/-, the amount that he offered to the four players. Talking about the cellular phone that Cronje used for negotiating the bribe, he said, "maybe it was given to him by Sanjay Chawla."
It was generally believed that the New Delhi police could not possibly make public such an important issue without taking the Indian Cricket Board into confidence, but it does not appear to be so. The difference of opinion is found even between the top officials of the board. Jaywant Lele, Secretary of the Indian Cricket Board, gave a clean chit to South African cricketers saying that the match-fixing allegations by police against them were "rubbish". He expressed doubts whether the police would be able to prove the charges in the court. In contrast Manohar Joshi, a Federal Minister and Vice-President of the Cricket Board defended the action of New Delhi police in bugging players' phones during their stay in India. He opined, "There must be some offence, and that is why Delhi police had tapped the telephones of South African cricketers".
While Hansie Cronje continues to maintain his innocence by insisting that the charges against him are untrue and he is even prepared to place his bank account at the disposal of authorities for a check, the Indian police boasts of having collected some fresh evidence against him. They claim that Sanjay Cahwla, a London-based bookie stayed in the same hotel with Cronje during the first one-day match at Cochin, maintaining that the police were in possession of evidence besides tapes, of purported conversation between Cronje, Chawla and his associate Rajesh Kalra.
The matter has also become active on government as well as diplomatic front. India has rejected the South African government's request for a copy of the tapes on the plea that they were sealed and locked in a safe and would be produced only when the matter comes to court. The matter is taking a serious turn and if not settled amicably, is likely to put a dent in the relationship between the two countries.
Unlike similar match-fixing allegations in the past, the charges against Cronje and his teammates are neither a creation of the media nor are based on a mere "Hearsay". They are the result of a pre-planned and carefully executed operation by some of India's renowned police officers, who know that the odds of proving the quilt were heavily stacked against them. The million dollar question is, if there was no substance in the matter, what motive would the Indian police have in concocting such a big issue against the South Africans, especially when the authorities know that they will have to face the consequences, if they failed to prove the charges.
This is the biggest case of alleged match-fixing in the new millennium. Cricket will benefit if these charges are proved false. If not, the game will be dealt a crippling blow, with cricket lovers losing their faith even on the most respected teams.