Veteran Pakistan all rounder Mohammad Hafeez has announced his retirement from international cricket. But as he left the scene, he sounded a warning that should be heeded by cricket administrators from all over the world. He lashed out against those who sell their country and take money to fix matches. “Players who take money to fix matches and betray their country, should never be allowed to play,” he told the media in Lahore. He also disclosed that the greatest disappointment of his career came when he and his teammate Azhar Ali took a stand on the issue and brought up a matter related to corruption, but they were ignored by the board.
This is a matter of concern because the menace of match fixing cannot be crushed by half hearted measures. The cricket fraternity must exercise continuous vigilance. What is the use of having an Anti Corruption Unit in the ICC headed by a top police officer and anti corruption codes and standard operating procedures (SOPs) meant to be followed by all member countries if a red flag put up by a senior player is ignored.
Nothing should be taken lightly. There is big money in illegal betting and where there are such large sums involved, any player could fall prey to the lure of the filthy lucre. In 1997 a journalist was offered 40 lakh rupees by a bookie whom he met in the West Indies. All that the man asked for in return was to be introduced to Sachin Tendulkar and Azharuddin. The money would be put into any foreign bank account that the receiver wanted.
Forty lakhs was offered just for a word of introduction. That introduction would be the first step for the bookie to establish a connection with the player he was targeting. If forty lakhs was on offer just for the introducer, we can well imagine what he would offer to the player after he had been hooked. Undoubtedly, the sky would be the limit.
Although this incident happened in 1997, there is no need to assume that such crooked people have left the scene or that it does not happen anymore. There is no reason for corruption to fade away. If anything, it has probably grown because even more money is available to criminals these days if they have the right connections.
In Pakistan, rumours about match fixing began in 1994 when Salim Malik was the captain. The whispers became louder during the Australia-Asia Cup in Sharjah. It prompted team manager Intikhab Alam to ask the players to take an oath on the Holy Quran that they would remain true to their profession and to the country.
But later that same year in the middle of a Test match, one evening when the day’s play was over, and Pakistan’s score was 155 for three and it needed a score of 314 to win, Saleem Malik is said to have approached Shane Warne and made an offer. The deal he offered was that if Warne and off spinner Tim May were to bowl in such a way so that Pakistan could win, the two bowlers would be given 2.0 lakh US dollars each. The amount would be delivered in cash within half an hour to their rooms if they agreed.
Warne was taken by surprise and he thought it was a joke. But he was told to think it over and make a decision the next morning before play resumed. Warne discussed the matter with May and the matter was reported to coach Bob Simson who reported it to match referee John Reid of New Zealand. What action was taken by Reid was not revealed to the Australians who tried hard to win the match. But Inzamam-ul-Haq played a gritty knock to give Pakistan a narrow one wicket victory. After the match Malik is said to have taunted Warne: “You lost the match and you also lost 2 lakh dollars.”
Six years later Malik was investigated and shut out of the game with a lifetime ban which was overturned in 2008. But there is a long list of cricketers who turned into crooks. They have proved that cricket is no longer a gentleman’s game. The culprits have cropped up from all countries ranging from India, Pakistan, South Africa, UAE, Bangladesh and even Hong Kong.
Before he died, Hansie Cronje’s shocking revelations and confessions blew the lid off the corruption that had taken deep roots in world cricket.
Then Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer died under suspicious circumstances in his hotel room in the West Indies. A few days before he died, he had told a journalist that he was in the process of writing a book on corporate corruption in cricket. Especially in the selling of TV rights and about the way money is made by those connected with the game. Did Woolmer know too much? Was he silenced and was the investigation into his death botched up? The local police gave conflicting reports at first about the manner of his death which leads one to believe that the investigation was not handled in a thorough and professional manner.
The domestic scene has not been free of this malady. IPL players have not lagged behind when it came to match fixing and spot fixing. But what is dismaying is that sometimes, even after being found guilty, the players are treated leniently by the courts. Ideally, the cases should be investigated and tried meticulously and after that once a player is found guilty, he should be banned forever. But this does not always happen.
We see that sometimes the guilty players have their sentences reduced. Then, wearing broad smiles on their faces, these unrepentant culprits make their way back into the game which they have tarnished with their misdeeds. So Mohammad Hafeez is absolutely right when he says that such players should never be allowed to come back into the game. There should be no mercy shown to criminals who have willingly and unreservedly backstabbed the sport that has given them their fame and fortune. They have also cheated the public who love the game and who spend their hard earned money and time thronging the stadiums in thousands to see the players in action. Such crooks must be banned for life. No half measures, no clemency and no mercy.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects