In the hour of its latest infamy, the easy temptation to bury Pakistan cricket is too great. Even former ICC CEO Malcolm Speed contends that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), having become home to vested interests and sick with venality, is incapable of curing itself and punishing its culpable cricketers. The prognosis has prompted some to suggest that the only acceptable moral response from Pakistan would be a ban of its team from international cricket till it furnishes proof of redeeming itself.
But more considerate voices, emanating also from Australia, advise restraint. Former captain Mark Taylor says that a ban would be too harsh; Geoff Lawson, the former Pakistan coach, says that would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater; Matthew Hayden believes that “we need to just sit back, make investigations in the fullness of time”. That would appear to be the prudent choice.
Information from the nether lands of the bookies says that the thunder of the England-Pakistan “spot-fix” has caused alarm among Indian bookies. According to sources, Rs 500 to Rs 700 crore was riding on the Lord’s Test, and the Mumbai bookies realised something was amiss when the Pakistan batting collapsed twice in the match. They refused to pay up and went underground after receiving threats from the underworld. “They believe that when England was in trouble (102/7), they were encouraged to put money on Pakistan. They believe they were being set up,” says a source.
It is for these factors, as for being home to the IPL, that India needs to be more vigilant than others. Australian Adam Gilchrist, now a Hyderabadi with the Deccan Chargers, spoke of the possibility of corruption in the IPL in June this year. “It’s been discussed among IPL players—more wondering whether it goes on,” he said. “There’s a strong thought that we’d be naive to think it’s not happening, because it’s a pretty easy target.”
Twenty20 is a format full of surprises, making so much easier to mask an error, a rash shot, in the guise of team’s need of it. “In T20 it is much more difficult, than other versions, for us to detect malpractices,” says Raghavan. Adds a senior investor in an IPL team, “Sometimes we’ve wondered what’s going on in the middle. From a winning position, we’ve lost matches, and we’ve wondered if all was quite above board. We don’t really know if the players are doing it.” Former Indian bowler Atul Wassan stated during a TV debate that he’d been “told by a few players that there were approaches made to them”.
Prime target: Suresh Raina, Keiron Pollard in the final of IPL 3 (Getty Images, From Outlook, September 13, 2010)
Incidentally, Modi, now the suspended IPL chief, has again gone on twitter.com. He has posted web links to news stories which reveal that he and N. Srinivasan, BCCI secretary and MD of India Cements—which owns Chennai Super Kings—fixed the second IPL auction so that Andrew Flintoff could be bought by the Chennai team. Srinivasan is slated to be the next BCCI chief, and Modi is bent on discrediting him. “It’s becoming clear that the auctions were ‘arranged’ so that big stars were evenly distributed, and that the influential teams got the biggest stars,” says a player representative, unwilling to be named. Now Modi himself is fuelling the fire of this speculation. “To spite the face, he’s injuring the nose—himself!”
To complete the dubious India story, the parasitic relationship between players and sports agents seems to have reached alarming proportions. It’s a seething mass of rumour and innuendo, of greed and official complicity, of agents trying to fully monetise the skill and fame of their charges, and the race to sign young talent. “There have been instances when some of the newer agents tried to fox young players, telling them they’d get them into an IPL team or the Indian team,” says Latika Khaneja of Collage Sports Management.
Two years ago, Ratnakar Shetty, the chief operating officer of the BCCI, had cautioned junior players against dubious agents. “We’d learnt that a few unscrupulous agents were going around telling junior cricketers they’d get them into IPL teams, giving the impression that they are close to the captain or the selectors,” Shetty told Outlook.
Agents and the access they have to the players, or the access they facilitate for others, could also cause problems. The ICC suggests no or limited access to players during matches, but agents and their friends are always with players. During the Asia Cup earlier this year, the Sri Lankan chief of security wrote to the acu that a woman had gained access to an Indian player’s room. “The situation was managed, but it’s a potentially hazardous, in which a woman could be used to lure a player towards wrongdoing,” says a source.
A senior BCCI official says it’s time there was some regulation of the agents: “There are some good ones, but one or two are known to be of dubious integrity, misleading players about deals, attempting to influence selection. It might be a good idea to register agents, like in football and nba, so that there could be a thorough check of their antecedents.”
The agents strike early, as we saw with Mohammed Aamer. For instance, a day before the 2006 junior World Cup final between India and Pakistan in Sri Lanka, agents descended upon the venue. A newspaper called them “vultures circling over the team hotel”, and then coach Venkatesh Prasad was suitably angered at this intrusion. “Prasad was livid,” says a player. “He was angry that the agents were proving a distraction to the players and really blasted them.”
A senior India player says that the BCCI must do more to keep filth out of the system. “The BCCI owes this to itself, the young players and the fans of the game,” he says. “It should ensure that something like what’s happening with young Pakistan players, or happened with Azharuddin and Jadeja, doesn’t happen.” Punishment meted to the guilty should be severe enough to act as a deterrent. “Azhar is an MP, Prabhakar a coach and Jadeja a cricket expert on a respected TV channel,” says an official. “What kind of deterrence would that serve, if they are rehabilitated so easily after committing the biggest crime in sport?”
A law specifically against wrongdoing in sport, the likes of which exist in the UK, might help. Raghavan, though, isn’t too sure. “Specific laws are useful, but we shouldn’t exaggerate their value,” he says. “But there’s no harm in having such a law, because match-fixing is happening far too often for comfort.”
The onus, Raghavan says, is more on the BCCI and the ICC to ensure the game is cleansed. “It’s their moral duty,” he adds. Such a task, it is to be hoped, isn’t lost in gloating over Pakistan’s misfortunes.
By Rohit Mahajan inputs by Smruti Koppikar in Mumbai
Apropos of Heal Thyself, Indians can hardly gloat over the misfortunes of the Pak players. The ipl tamasha is already ripe with rumours of fixed matches. G. Vijayaraghavan, on e-mail
The Pak players are cricket’s very own suicide bombers. Vijayant Sharma, Nagpur
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