It is not always possible to agree with the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). But following the arrest of three Rajasthan Royals players for spot fixing in the IPL, he made a pertinent point. “This is about greed,” he said, “and not about inadequate compensation.” True, and you cannot legislate against human greed.
Sunil Gavaskar put into words what millions around the country must have been thinking: “I feel like a fool.” Suddenly, the IPL is tainted officially. Every last-over finish (and there are sound statistical reasons why there are so many last-over finishes), every dropped catch, every no-ball, every wardrobe adjustment raises the question: Who paid whom?
It is too simplistic to believe that a trio of players acting on their own can be spearheads of what is steadily being revealed as a huge operation involving millions of dollars and at least three countries. Only the terminally naive will accept that a dozen bookies spent their time manipulating just three players of a single team.
Delhi’s Commissioner of Police who addressed the press conference in the afternoon was careful to discourage all speculation, so for the moment we must assume that neither Board officials nor the more likely suspects in the game of big money, the franchise owners, were involved in the fixing.
But he did say he had hundreds of hours of telephone conversations on tape. What the analysis will reveal might merely confirm what is being said: that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The codes and signals, the money involved, the persons who were the go-between – such depressing details involving the whole operation were revealed professionally and unemotionally by the commissioner of the police force that deserves plaudits for its work.
You don’t need to know right from wrong to keep away from bookies if you are a cricketer. For at least a decade now, players have known how much they stand to lose if they are caught. This might be a cynical way of looking at the latest fixing claims in the IPL. But why would an international star risk everything and effectively end his career at the age of 30?
Perhaps Sreesanth sees no way back into the Indian team, perhaps he has been getting away in the past, and saw no reason why he couldn’t again. The other two players involved, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila are 27 and 29 respectively, and with dim prospects of future riches that come with playing for the country, the temptation to make a quick buck was probably very strong.
This is the crime – for make no mistake, although there is no body or injury or heist involved, spot fixing is a crime – that is encouraged by inattention. Like diabetes, spot-fixing cannot be cured, only controlled. If diet, exercise and medication are the route to keeping the medical condition in check, vigilance, policing and punishment are needed to keep the cricketing malady manageable.
This is where the authorities have failed us. Wasn’t it just the other day that three Pakistani stars were sent to jail for consorting with a bookmaker and introducing an inglorious certainty into a game that prided itself on being the epitome of the opposite?
India, already bitten by the fixing scandal of a decade ago and involving their captain Mohammad Azharuddin have done precious little to ensure that history does not repeat itself. It is this smugness that has contributed to the current embarrassment.
It is difficult to shake off the feeling that the Indian players got away lightly for the biggest crime you can commit on a sports field, which is to lend significance to an essentially trivial pursuit.
The sight of cars passing by as you sit in a bus-stop leaves you unaffected; but bet with someone that the next one to go past is a Honda and suddenly you have significance; then call up a friend to ensure that he drives his Honda past you, and you have spot fixing.
By not putting the perpetrators in jail, by not focusing on tightening up the laws, and by, in recent times, trying to make a moral distinction between spot fixing and match fixing, the authorities have let the fans down. Whether you bowl a no-ball on cue or influence the course of the match from outside the field, the intent is the same. To cheat.
Just as you can’t be a “little pregnant”, you cannot have degrees of cheating where fixing is concerned.
Spot fixing is not something that can be easily detected or conclusively proved. Was that maiden over paid for or part of the natural turn of events? Was that batsman tapping the pitch to send a signal to his co-conspirator or was there something that needed patting down? That is why the meticulous work done by the Delhi Police must be specially commended.
By opting to file a case under cheating and conspiracy, the authorities have done what they should have done a decade and more ago. The casual attitude then is what Indian cricket is paying for now.
When the High Court reprieved Azharuddin, there was frustration among the right-thinking that no effort was made to build a case that would have held up in court.
The Court did not say that the former captain was not guilty of fixing matches. It merely indicated that the Board had no evidence to back its claim. This is not such a subtle difference even if Azharuddin himself – quite naturally – preferred to interpret the judgment as one absolving him of the deed.
The BCCI did not challenge the decision in the higher court. There was a lack of interest, and a wish to let bygones be bygones.
If the latest scandal leads to better policing and better laws, apart from severe exemplary punishments, then ironically, Sreesanth and co. might have served Indian cricket well. Sad that they had to first destroy the faith in the game shared by a billion people.
(Suresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India)