Cricket’s wakeup call? Don’t bet on it

It took a now-defunct tabloid newspaper and the British legal system to achieve what the ICC could not when Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were found guilty of spot fixing yesterday. It was also reported that Mohammad Amir had pled guilty prior to the trail –  a fact suspected but not confirmed due to media restrictions in place throughout the proceedings.

Nearly every piece of coverage I have seen, heard or read on developments at Southwark Crown Court has included phrases along the lines of “a good day for cricket”, “a new start”, “just the kick up the backside the sport needed”. Excuse my cynicism, but the effect this will have on curbing corruption and cheating within the game around the world and especially on the subcontinent will be somewhere between jack and squat.

Sure, players might think twice about cheating on British soil due to the fact that if caught you could land yourself a stretch in chokey, but until the ICC’s anti-corruption unit invests considerably more than token amounts of time and expertise in tackling the root of the problem, it’ll simply be a case of having to take along a bigger suitcase of cash.

History bears me out on this. 1998’s Qayyum inquiry achieved nothing other than defining what exactly constitutes match-fixing: “deciding the outcome of a match before it is played and then playing oneself or having others play below one’s/their ability to influence the outcome to be in accordance with the pre-decided outcome”, something you could hardly struggle to work out yourself, unless you were devoid of any moral sense whatsoever.

A 2001 inquiry proved similarly ineffective – a report into match-fixing presented by Lord Condon “doesn’t seem to have told us anything that we don’t already know,” observed David Lloyd. “It’s just a factual report about things that have dripped out over the years… Cricket boards are saying ‘Yes, we will look at it’ but the issue just rumbles on”.

And the most notorious case of all, that which resulted in a lifetime ban for South African captain Hansie Cronje, has had so little impact on the way corruption is viewed within the sport that the biography I own of him amounts to little more than hagiography.

Image is a large part of why cricket’s administrators have buried their heads in the sand over this issue. Caught between the two stools of going after cheats with all the resources and expertise they can muster, while at the same time being unwilling to draw greater attention to the problem and risk blighting the image of the “gentleman’s game” and losing advertising and TV revenue, the ICC and national cricket boards seem to have opted instead for a middle path that acknowledges the existence of match and spot-fixing but has proved singularly ineffective in dealing with it.

Player amnesties and the banning of mobile phones in dressing rooms are all very well, but until cricket boards are able to take legal action against corrupt players for breach of contract  – rather than simply handing them a ban which, in time, may or may not be rescinded, according to who’s in charge and who does what for whom – then yesterday’s verdicts will constitute little more than chipping away at the face of an extremely large iceberg that could end up sinking the sport’s credibility entirely.

Like Michael Holding in his interview yesterday, I too was taken in by Salman Butt’s polished and duplicitous front which he put up for the cameras when he became Pakistan captain. Eloquent and dignified – since portrayed as “aloof and arrogant” by Graeme Swann in his recent autobiography – he genuinely seemed to have the best interests of his team and Pakistan cricket at heart. As it turns out he did, but only in an illegal, monetary sense, and even then only to benefit the few, mainly himself.

It is easier to feel some sympathy for Amir, the nineteen-year-old who seemed to have the brightest of careers ahead of him, but who was the only one out of the three who had direct contact with subcontinental bookmakers via mobile phone. His guilty plea was based on wrong-doing in the Lord’s Test, but evidence suggests he was involved in attempts to influence the Test at the Oval as well, something he has not as yet admitted to.

In the light of new information still emerging, it seems now the ICC has no choice but to widen the scope of their investigations into other players named by fixer Mazhar Majeed in his conversations with an undercover journalist. One could cynically say the ICC are only taking this action now because the bad publicity that surrounds the sport in the light of yesterday’s verdicts has left them with no other choice.

Whether anything of substance will be done to rid the sport of this vile cancer, or whether it will simply be a case of more meaningless reports, platitude-laden press releases and empty reassurances remains to be seen.

I for one am not holding my breath.

3 Responses to “Cricket’s wakeup call? Don’t bet on it”

  1. khurram alvi says:

    A very well written article but i guess you have again missed the point. It is not just the players who are corrupt its the involvement of all Cricket boards and the ICC.

    We now know what the IPL is all about and the role BCCI plays in it. Their influence on ICC is growing by by the day and I really can’t believe that their is a cricket match played these days without any Spot fixing.

    Yes, all matches might not be fixed but spot fixing is way too easy and unless some one keeps a check on ICC and the boards there is little we can hope for.

    Being a an absolute cricket mad fan when young , I have lost all hope after the world cup in 2011. The stories that came out were sad and disturbing to say the least. I pray that there are better times ahead but i am really finding it hard to be optimistic.


    Khurram (now a bigger football fan) Alvi.

  2. legsidefilth says:

    Thanks for your comment, Khurram – it’s obvious you feel strongly about this issue, and I don’t blame you.

    While I don’t believe cheating in cricket has reached Tour de France levels, it’s plain that self-interest on the part of some will always take precedence over what is best for the sport. No sport can ever be 100 per cent clean, but I wholeheartedly agree with you that there needs to be transparency and accountability from the top down – certainly a damn sight more than there is at present.

    Right now, cricket’s biggest problem is one of perception: no matter what Ronnie Flanagan and co. might say, every moment in which a no-ball is bowled, a catch is dropped or a stumping missed will raise more eyebrows than it did before, and you cannot keep faith in a sport you cannot trust.

    I’m sorry the sport has lost you as a fan, mate – recent events may not have destroyed my love for the game, but days like these certainly test it.



  3. Lucretia says:

    I have to agree with Khurram. The boards are as much to blame as they have so little power or even interest in confronting this. The ICC as a board has no credibility at all.

Leave a Reply