As one of the most popular games in the world, cricket has its due share of conflicts and controversies.
The furore created by the Hansie Cronje's "forecasting" episode has, however, been bigger and more alarming than other such events of the recent past. There were some instances of players alleged involvement in match fixing but the cases remained confined to the cricket boards of the countries concerned. The upheaval caused by the Cronje's confession has globalized the issue to the extent that besides the intelligence agencies, jumping into the arena, the ICC had to call a special meeting to discuss the issue.
Though hero of the drama belongs to South Africa, surprisingly, India has become the center stage of the play. After the sensational disclosure of Cronje's involvement, the heat turned on the cricketing establishment in India which also came to be viewed with suspicion. The New Delhi Police that initially detected the crime, the CBI, the Indian Cricket Board, the press, the bookies etc are now actively engaged in the probe. Deeper they dig into the gold mine, the new discoveries bring out the involvement of some prominent persons.
Manoj Prabhakar, a former test player continues to persist with his claim that he was offered money by a teammate to play below potential during the 1994 Singer Cup in Sri Lanka. In the inquiry conducted by Justice Chandrachud in 1997 his allegations were labeled as "imaginary and unrealistic " Now when the Government of India has asked the CBI to probe into match fixing in Indian cricket, Prabhakar thinks that his stand on the issue has been vindicated. Having refrained from naming the individuals, fearing a threat to his life, he has now disclosed to a top government official, the name of a teammate who made him the offer, According to him, he was doing so to help in rooting out corruption form the game.
Sunil Dev, who was tour manager for India's 1996-97 tour of South Africa is reported to have said, "I am sure some Indian players were guilty, they do lay a bet and one can only bet to lose". He also mentioned that one or two Indian players had acquired assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. The comment related to the glitzy life style of former skipper Azharuddin. Who is alleged to have maintained links with Indian bookies through a former Indian player Ajay Sharma. Prompted by such allegations, the government of India has asked all cricketers to declare their assets.
Now when the Government of India has announced a probe by the CBI, some former cricket players and two leading businessmen have expressed their willingness to cooperate with the Enforcement Directorate in unravelling the truth. Hansie Cronje's confession having opened the Pandora's Box, some new dimensions were added to the issue. According to an Indian paper, the Mumbai police is in possession of a taped conversation between bookies who attempted to buy out Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, Venkatesh Prasad and Manoj Prabhakar to throw a match against New Zealand during the KIWIS 1995-96 tour of India. They were offered Rs. 20 Lakh each, which some of them accepted.
It is said that besides money, sex also plays a vital role in match fixing as most of the Indian cricketers are fond of going to night clubs and other amusement activities when they are out of country but this may not apply to Indian cricketers only. The players from other countries including Pakistan are also fond of such a recreation. Delhi police is also on the look out for an unidentified woman who is suspected to have acted as a go between the bookies and the South African players.
In a startling revelation on the Indian TV, Mr. I. S. Bindra a former President of the BCCI, stated that the Indian cricket Board hushed up information that three Indian test players were found betting on a match in England a few years ago. According to him, the BCCI was told repeatedly that three players were indulging in betting. Even two tour managers and one coach had also mentioned in their reports that some players were taking part in unlawful activities but the matter was glossed over. This shows that the involvement of Indian players in the nefarious activity was no less than the one allegedly attributed to the Pakistan players.
A former England all-rounder Chris Lewis claimed in a British newspaper that three England players who had played regularly for their country during the last four years, had taken money to fix matches. The amounts they received went into thousands. Some old graves are also being dug to conduct the autopsy of the scandals that were buried years ago. Wisden Editor Mathew Angels opines that the game's current betting scandal can be linked to the lack of official action over Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee's infamous bet in 1981.
The pair had bet on England to beat Australia in the third test at Headingly. Lillee later admitted, "While Australia looked like winning the test, he could not resist the 500-1 odds for England". Most cricket observers feel that the ICC's failure to act then set the standards of inaction and complacency on the part of the cricket administrations. Similar leniency by Australia in dealing with players who were paid to advise bookmakers helped to encourage match fixing in international cricket. The famous case in point is that of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne having admitted that they advised bookies about the weather and pitch conditions and received money for it. The Australian Cricket Board handled the matter with absolute secrecy and fined the players sometimes in 1995. The case was not made public till the incident was uncovered by the media in December 1998.
Embarrassed by Hansie Cronje's confession that tarnished his country's image in the World, the South Africa cricket Chief Ali Bacher tried to act smart by implicating other countries in the racket. He claimed that two matches of the Would Cup 99 including the match between Pakistan and Bangladesh were fixed. He also alleged that Pakistani Umpire Javed Akhtar was under suspicion for the way he handled the Leeds Test of South Africa's tour of England in 1998. These allegations ruffled some important feathers at the ICC that expressed deep annoyance for Ali Bacher's rhetoric. When contradictions poured in from all concerned Mr. Bacher retracted from his claims.
With the issue of gambling and match fixing having taken such wide dimensions, the holding of a special meeting of the ICC was the right step. The meeting is in progress with the understanding that corruption in the scandal hit game is much wider than it is imagined. There is a dire need to identify and eradicate it quickly and effectively. Let us wait for the outcome of this meeting before making further comments on the issue.