As news spread of the alleged spot-fixing saga in the Indian Premier League (IPL) involving three Rajasthan Royals current players and a former player-turned-bookie, majority of followers remained far from shocked.
The identity of the individuals in a Royals lineup captained by one of the most honest and honourable cricketers in the world, Rahul Dravid, was shocking. But the IPL, with millions — perhaps more — at stake, in advertising, marketing, player fees, awards and rewards, was always an attraction for those who wanted to create mischief.
Many had been shouting this for years, wanting the IPL to be more transparent and removing BCCI’s vested interest from the event where its officials were directly involved, or owned, the IPL franchises. The glitz and glamour perhaps covered what went on behind it. The hoicking and tonking grew louder than the concerns. The dances became more appealing than fair trade. Entertainment often overshadowed cricket, the rewards kept increasing, the pay cheques kept getting heavier.
But as the first arrests were made, contracts were cancelled, ads were pulled off-air, effigies were burnt, protests witnessed and the mud-slinging has not stopped.
Rajasthan Royals suspended the contracts of all three of their players who were arrested on allegations of spot-fixing — Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila — all three were allegedly promised money ranging from $36,000 to $109, 000 for conceding specific number of runs in a particular over in three separate games. The move came after the trio was suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the wake of the allegations. Rajasthan Royals also filed a complaint with the Delhi police against the trio, distancing them from the allegations, the involvements and the fixing.
The country’s union law minister, Kapil Sibal, wants fixing to become a criminal offence in India.
“You have to have a separate definition and a separate law, which makes match-fixing or spot-fixing an offence, a criminal offence, and have separate provisions dealing with the punishment and trial. Of course the criminal procedure code will apply,” Sibal told NDTV. “That law is being contemplated and when broad contours of the law are ready, and this will be done in collaboration with the sports ministry, then sports ministry will carry it to Parliament.”
All this while the Royals, the first-ever IPL champions, reached the playoffs of the current season, finishing third in the group as the tournament dragged on. Despite the magnitude of the allegations and the players’ involvements — if proven — the fans, idolising the game and the players — remain largely unaffected. So will the event as, by the looks of things, the stands still remain full, the enthusiasm and the support has failed to die down and the clean performers — the cricketers, the cheerleaders — are still going about their business as usual, searching for quick runs and quick money. The shouting still fills the air in and around the stadium, the lights continue to dazzle, the crackling sound when the ball is smashed is still adored by millions. The over paid cricketers in the middle — who often resemble entertainers and not athletes — make a name for themselves and prepare for their post-cricket days by earning a lot in the space of a few weeks.
Often the cricket is drowned by the music, the camera pans to the dancers as soon as the ball lands into the crowd (and not towards the batsman who had muscled his way into the fiercely competitive competition) and the annoying, repeated mention of the sponsors with every passing breath makes one loathe his own existence. That is the power of money, of glamour and entertainment. Until the bowler reaches his bowling mark, that is. The wind in his hair as he runs towards the popping crease, the cheering as it grows louder, the anticipation of what lies in store, the sheer thrill, excitement and mystery of it all makes one forget all that preceded.
Why? Because cricket is love — for the players, for the spectators, for the stall-wallahs circling the perimeter, for the umpires and for the journalists. They would all want to keep their house clean but will not turn away from it if something was to go wrong. For the trio involved here, as was the case with the Pakistani tri almost three years ago, the charges relate to spot-fixing, not match-fixing. Polluting any part of the sport, no matter how small the stain is, damages the entire structure — like spitting lying down and facing up or peeing in the bathtub. The crime a mere trifle, the repercussions grand.
Last year, the BCCI banned five domestic players — for periods ranging between one year and life — for allegedly being involved in match-fixing, and negotiating for extra and illegal pay. There was also a life ban handed out to Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria and a short jail sentence to Merwyn Westfield for his part in the fix. Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin was handed a life ban and batsman Ajay Jadeja was banned for five years. Jadeja’s ban was overturned in 2003 while Azharuddin’s was termed illegal last year. Kaneria was not so lucky despite his repeated efforts and journeys across the continents.
So, as cricket has expanded and gained popularity, so have the problems and the menace.
Spot-fixing pertains to fixing a small part of the match — a delivery, an over, a shot and is largely inconsequential to the outcome of the match. At Lord’s, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif bowled no-balls, gave away an extra ball and a run but came out all guns blazing after committing the crime. It did not give the match away to England — they tried their best to bring Pakistan level. But it was cheating — against your teammates, countrymen and the love and your very profession that made you what you are today. Given the miniscule nature of the act on proceedings, it might have been very easy to get coaxed into performing such an action — bowling a no-ball seldom raises eyebrows. Waiting at the end of the day’s play was a fat cheque, some extra change in addition to the thousands you are already paid to use perhaps for a new car for your brother, dowry for your sister’s wedding or just to move your parents into a bigger, better house.
Thousands, in Pakistan and abroad, have gotten away with worse sins. This is not to say that crime should go away unpunished but those pointing the fingers the most need to see where the other three fingers are pointing at. It’s easier to blame than to redeem, to act as the saint while painting the town black, grow a beard and pray five times a day but cut across the queue because that is how it works. We’ve all lied, stolen and done cruel things in life, so it’s not a matter of judging them by their early acts — but what followed. According to the ICC, around $50 billion of illegal bets are placed on cricket matches each year. At a time when not much was happening in world cricket, the focus, the eyes and money was all glued to the IPL.
But it’s not the mistake that can’t be forgiven, it’s the continued stance of innocence — the Pakistani trio pleaded not guilty to the charges until all was lost. They even convinced then-chairman Ijaz Butt to fight for them and take on the world that dared claim his boys cheated. The players’ stance that led the masses to believe in the crooks and a stance that stomped and burnt every ounce of trust and love of their followers — and there must have been tonnes of that.
Three got caught, many more perhaps roam about freely — players, officials, umpires, who knows. It seemed as if Salman Butt, Asif and Amir had taught the world a stern lesson — it seemed the sternest of it all for it was the first time cricketers were arrested, convicted and put behind bars for fixing. But instead of being etched in every cricketer’s mind like a 90mph zooter, many opted to ignore it, forgetting that the next delivery could be right up in the grill.
The writer is a freelance cricket journalist and author of Champions Again, a book about Pakistan's World Twenty20 victory in 2009