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Cricket: Drastic clean-up needed

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-05-2014 Ayaz Memon

Former New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent’s confessions to the International Cricket Council (ICC), as leaked to the media in England some days ago, shows just how stressed and strained the sport is by the ogre of corruption.

The dramatic twists and turns in the Indian Premier League 6 (IPL 6) spot-fixing case, now being reinvestigated by a panel under Justice Mukul Mudgal, have understandably hogged worldwide attention. But Vincent’s revelations show that the malaise is not limited to India or to the Twenty20 leagues.

Vincent, who his lawyer says was driven by remorse and not coerced into a plea bargain, has admitted to several instances of spot-fixing, beginning with the now defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2008, and continuing with county cricket as well as the Champions League in 2011.

This is a harsh reminder of how corruption has permeated low-profile tournaments too. English county cricket, for instance, has also been wracked by the controversy involving former Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who was found to have involved himself and fellow Essex player Mervyn Westfield in spot-fixing in 2009.

Kaneria suffered a serious setback in the first week of this month when the London high court upheld the life ban on him. But the larger worry for administrators is that there may be several cases that may have gone either undetected or unreported, and not just in England.

Indeed, it is now acknowledged that this menace knows no boundaries. Live telecast of games, instant dissemination of information through the Internet and the ubiquitous cellphone—otherwise so crucial in the promotion and sustenance of the sport—have also ironically become the platforms that facilitate corruption.

The core question, however, is why players seem to be getting sucked into corruption so readily, despite the inevitable punishment and ignominy that must come with being found out.

Greed is the simplest and correct answer, yet also the most complex to explain. In testimony to the ICC, which was published in the British newspaper The Independent, Eleanor Riley, Vincent’s former wife, provides a grim, but telling, idea of what possibly goes on in the minds of players.

Riley says: “I can say that Lou felt New Zealand cricket had let him down. He felt that he didn’t owe them anything. He said that New Zealand had picked him, dropped him, picked him, dropped him, paid him shit money and so now this was his chance in the years he had left to make as much cash as he could.”

To many, this would find an echo in the case involving the three cricketers allegedly involved in the spot-fixing case in IPL 6: S. Sreesanth was an India discard, while Ajit Chandila and Ankit Chavan were marginal players unsure about their future.

It would be specious though to type-cast corrupt players. The late Hansie Cronje, who was found guilty of match-fixing, was captain and the most high-profile player in South Africa. Likewise, Salman Butt was captain of Pakistan when a newspaper sting operation showed that he had influenced bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif to spot-fix a Test match against England in 2010.

Psychoanalysts would ascribe this to a “power syndrome” where players, because of their authority or personality, believe they can be above rules. Greed, allied to the thrill of holding weaker colleagues hostage in mocking at the law, can be heady.

Vincent says he was initiated into spot-fixing in the ICL by a big “star” whom he simply could not refuse. Current New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, in his testimony to the ICC, said pretty much the same thing: of how he was approached to spot-fix in the first season of the IPL by a player he considered his “hero”. McCullum refused, but how many other players were approached is the moot question.

The statements of Vincent and McCullum seem to point in the direction of Chris Cairns, arguably New Zealand’s finest modern cricketer, though the all-rounder has denied any involvement.

Interestingly, Cairns had originally been named as a “fixer” by former IPL chairman Lalit Modi, who went on to lose a defamation suit filed against him by New Zealander in England. He claims he will fight again in a court of law if he is officially dragged in.

It’s not known where the current investigation of the ICC will lead to, but the authorities have a major task on hand in arresting corruption. Alas, it is the very rhythm and tenor of the game that allows players to come up with insidious methods to hoodwink fans and law-keepers alike.

How, for instance, can a bowler be prevented from deliberately bowling a no-ball, which is a frequent occurrence in match-play? Or a batsman from deliberately throwing his wicket away? Or indeed, an umpire from “fixing” a decision?

The best way out is rigid mentoring from an early age, allied with strict checks and balances at every level and severe punishment for wrongdoers. Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe, writing in his blog for sports news website ESPNcricinfo, has also come up with an interesting suggestion.

Crowe says the fight against corruption needs to move beyond the ICC; that captains, current and past, should step in as a lobby and show the way forward.

He names Ian Chappell, Mike Brearley, Graeme Smith, Stephen Fleming and Rahul Dravid, among former players, who have the depth of understanding and high integrity to align with present captains and collectively “solve the technology and umpiring dilemmas, the low-catching debate, the sledging, the sportsmanship, and the spirit of the game”.

In a sense, this gives the power of running the game to the players, much like the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in that sport. It’s an interesting thought, despite the obvious difference between a team and individual sport. How exactly it would work is unclear.

What’s clear, though, is that cricket needs something new, perhaps drastic, to clean up.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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