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Cricket as a Gentlemen’s Game

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    MATCH FIXING Heroism is essential to sport and cricket is no exception. Boys need players to worship and so their fathers. Film stars are wonderful but all know that their world is fantasy-with players it is different. Their art is real. Today, the line dividing the rigged and the real becoming blurred and this blurredness promise nothing for the game but an uncertain future. Cricket, a great a gentleman’s game is shrouded in shame. It is a game stained beyond caliper measure. Every sport is allowed its inadequacies as long as intrinsically its heart is viewed as clean.

    However Hansie Cronje’s admission that be took money from a bookie has rocked cricket’s foundations and changed the way this game is viewed. Like a virus betting and match-fixing have seeped into crickets’ bloodstream to the point where the essence of cricket has been shattered. The foundation of cricket is its credibility and it is shaking like a leaf in a sudden storm. We ask again and again-where did talent end and the fix began? How can a gifted team lose and lesser team win.

    Batsmen charge out and are bowled, bowlers, send down wides in a final over and viewers are charged up. This is cricket at its best when its stimulates the senses, but now every failure will require explanation and the authenticity of heroism will be questioned. Match-fixing is not a new phenomenon. First time in 1979-80 it was alleged that in the third test of the India-Pakistan series in Mumbai, the Pakistan team lost the test internationally. In 1992-93 Aussie Dean Jones claims that an Indian offered him dollar 50,000 to reveal information.

    Similarly in 1993, 1994, 1996, many players claimed that they were offered money either to give information to play badly and lose the game. In 1998 the Australian Cricket Board admitted that Mark Waugh and Shane Warne had given information on the pitch and weather to bookies and now in 2000 Hansie Cronje’s admission that for dollar 10,000 be passed on information to a bookie shook the world. In fact, betting and match fixing is the illegitimate child of one-day cricket. The basic arithmetical nature of game, balls and runs and few nuances, makes one-day cricket a gambler’s delight.

    The betting turnover per match in Mumbai is estimated at Rs. 400 crore and nationally it is at Rs. 1000 core. In 1984 there were only 51 one-dayers played worldwide, in 1999 that figure was 154. Thus the grueling schedules of these one-day series not just tire the players, it also bores them and more dangerously it makes them vulnerable to the bookies phone call. Some questions have no absolute answers. Why cricketers would sell their reputations, their careers, their team, their country is one of them?

    Perhaps we think that men who perform great deeds must automatically be men of fine moral fiber. We blindly place halos around men’s heads. But this is not so. In less than virtuous times why should we expect men of virtue? It is reason for cricket to take guard. Moreover, the game is awash in money and clearly not all of it clean. Cricketers are also like you and me and greed is a basic human nature. There is no full stop to greed and this greed applies to every race, creed and color. Unfortunately, the cricket administration is also at fault.

    It has been caught napping more than once. Much like the International Olympic ability to turn deaf and blind to drug-taking, cricketing officialdom has slept in the hope that like a bad dream match fixing will come to an end with the batting of eyelid. In Pakistan Justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum’s much discussed report on match fixing, ready last October, threatens to become a dusty relic, perhaps because it is viewed as explosive. In India also Justice Y. V. Chandrachudas’ 94-page document of betting and match fixing in the game in India is kept under wraps.

    The secrecy with which the Australian Cricket Board handled a potentially explosive incident came in for widespread public criticism. In February 1995, Mark Waugh and Shane Warne started the Aussie cricket establishment by admitting that they had accepted payments of US dollar 4,000 and US dollar 8,000 for providing information. The Australian Cricket Board fined Waugh a dollar 10,000 and Warne A dollar 8,080 but chose to keep the matter secret also, the fine imposed on the cricketers was too mild a penalty for an information of that magnitude.

    The international Cricket Council (ICC) resembles a toothless tiger that is uncap able to hunt. Individual boards, keen to manage their own affairs, are loath to hand power over to them, thus making the term ‘world body’ a mockery. However, to begin with the players must police themselves. One of the recommendations suggested by the ICC code of Conduct Commission is that must be “an obligation on the part of the players to report to the team manager or captain any approach made to them by bookmakers or knowledge of such approach to any other player” with the corollary that “failure to make such a report be made a punishable offence”.

    It is for the players to help keep their sport unblemished, for a tainted game means even the honest will be under scrutiny. The Chandrachud report says, “It will be a sad day, if the common men and women on whose support the game has occupied its pride of place believe that bookies and not the chosen eleven play the game’’. Unfortunately that day has already come. Officialdom’s severest test is now to revive the public’s faith and restore the credibility. The only hope is that cricket, tempered by time, is a resilient sport and it will survive this crisis also. We also wish a bright future to this gentlemen’s game.

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