Match-fixing, a scourge

Match-fixing, a scourge

It is not surprising that the outrage over spot-fixing incidents in the 2013 IPL Cricket attracted attention in only about a dozen nations which...

It is not surprising that the outrage over spot-fixing incidents in the 2013 IPL Cricket attracted attention in only about a dozen nations which patronized the game. Had a similar scandal enveloped soccer or horse racing which are popular in hundreds of nations, the outcry would have been louder. Horse racing scandals (real and imaginary) fictionalized by British crime writer, Dick Francis, sold millions of copies.

Yet ,the impact on cricket was somewhat special. For those of us who followed the game closely, cricket was not just a game, it was a way of life. Gentlemen (and now ladies) played the game; it has a long history and plenty of literary lore behind it. Dickens knew cricket and referred to it in his immortal work of fiction 'Pickwick Papers' . Besides England during the days of Dickens, cricket was also played in the West Indies which was so hot that the bats tended to burn away!

While all this was part of Dickens' matchless humour, British poets, including T S Eliot, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, mentioned the game along with other writers like PG Wodehouse and Lord CP Snow.A Why only cricket? Because it was presumed to be a gentleman's game. In whatever aspect of life a man broke rules it was pointed out that 'he was not playing cricket'. Under ideal situations when a batsman felt that his bat had touched the ball on its way to the wicketkeeper or the slips, he was supposed to walk back to the pavilion without waiting for the umpire's decision. Till recently, this unwritten law was followed by gentlemanly batsmen like Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist. But with the passage of time and more and more money coming to the game hardly anyone 'walked' these days.

It is ironic that evils like match-fixing and spot-fixing were more popular in the Subcontinent where the craze for the game is at its highest. The 'craze' resulted in a huge inflow of money and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) became the most powerful sports body in the world.

With money came power and arrogance and total disregard for the spirit of the game. Every day brought up a new scandal, the latest being the alleged involvement of the son-in-law of the most powerful man in Indian cricket, N Srinivasan, the BCCI president. There was a time when the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which controlled English cricket, enjoyed the same status. It was run by members of the British aristocracy and time-tested professionals in the game who had served England over long periods.

The BCCI is in the hands of powerful corporate heads ready to flout the laws of the game. Film stars seeking more publicity and the worst kind of politicians (Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena, Arun Jaitley of the BJP, Narendra Modi of the BJP, Lalu Prasad in Bihar and so on) had never played the game and were only in it to enjoy power and perks and play dirty politics. These self-centred men exploited the tremendous popularity of cricket in India.

Former British Prime Minister John Major, who succeeded the formidable Margaret Thatcher, followed cricket closely and spent most of his spare time sitting in the stands at the Oval, London, enjoying the game without any fuss. The Queen and other members of the Royal family normally dropped in at Lord's on the Saturday of a Test match.

Another regular visitor was the late Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menezes, who, besides watching the Lord's Test, also interacted with his players. None of these VIPs ever thought of any additional roles except answering an occasional question or two from the BBC Commentary team. Such explorations brought a sense of dignity to the team and the game. Western leaders never used their attachment to cricket to bolster their personal or political image.

The BCCI was supposed to be an 'autonomous' body. For years its fortunes were in the hands of Sharad Pawar, a farmer from Maharashtra. Can anyone ever imagine Pawar bending down behind the wickets, stooping low to bold a snick or taking a quick single? Yet for years, the portly farmer from Baramati shared the limelight with top-ranking cricket administrators, many of whom had played cricket at the highest level, organizing schedules, changing laws of the games or fixing venues for major events like the Cricket World Cup.

But Pawar had mastered the magic art of making money with no questions asked about sources of the cash. The strategy which worked in Indian politics worked in Indian cricket and very soon, whatever Indian cricket touched turned to gold. The BCCI became the richest body in the world. Backed by the cricket-crazy billions in India, the BCCI became the chief 'benefactor' of the cricket units in other nations, including the West.

The BCCI ruthlessly used its money power to blackmail the weaker cricket associations to toe its line. Take, for instance, the DRS pertaining to making use of technology to correct umpiring decisions. The BCCI would have none of it despite the fact that India did not have a representative on the Elite Umpires Panel and the quality of Indian umpiring dropped sharply. Most of the decisions from the Indian umpires in the ongoing IPL were laughable, but the players had to grin and bear it.

The BCCI argued that the DRS was not perfect, ignoring the fact it offered a clear improvement on the present system. Its strategy was this: On the Indian slow turners, the Indian spinners loudly appealed time and again for lbw and close to the wicket catches which amounted to bullying the umpires. Some of the umpires succumbed to this bullying and decided in favour of the Indian bowers. This was the reason why India, despite its hammering from overseas tours, seldom lost a home series!

The bullying did not stop there. During a tour of Australia, our Harbhajan Singh racially taunted Australian all-rounder Symonds, but the entire team argued that the provocation came from the Australian. When Australia protested, the BCCI threatened to call off the tour which would have bankrupted the Australian Board.

The BCCI moneybags had scored once more. Its illegitimate child, the IPL, created controversies which reflected badly on the BCCI. This time, we had match-fixing, spot-fixing, honeytraps, and scandals involving not only players, but many of the BCCI stalwarts. The dirt is yet to settle down, but 2013 could see the end of the IPL and full of bitter lessons for the BCCI, the Rogue Elephant of international cricket.

Far from being a game played by gentlemen on field, who would not wait for the umpire's decision to walk back to the pavilion if they knew they were out, cricket today is in the vice-like grip of BCCI, the rogue elephant of international cricket

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