By Bala Murali Krishna
Few across the country may have heard of T.P. Sudhindra, Shalabh Srivastava, Mohnish Mishra, Amit Yadav or Abhinav Bali.
They are the five cricketers suspended after a sting operation by an Indian television channel showed them agreeing to unfair, and probably illegal, deals that bring shame to the fair name of the game.
It is tempting, especially for the administrators of the game, to portray the cricketer as evil. After all, it would deflect attention from their own failures. But that would be a shame. For, the men who run the game in the country — seen as equally evil by many — have a greater responsibility to protect it.
If the men who run the game in this country had been wise, they would have learned from the case of Pakistani fast bowler Mohammed Amir — an uneducated, under-aged cricketer who was trapped by clever, ruthless professional bookies. He was trapped by a sting operation by News of the World, the now defunct British tabloid, and later convicted by a British court on charges of illegal spot-fixing — illegal bets on specific events on the field of play, rather than the outcome of matches.
Sadly, India’s cricket bosses chose to see in Amir’s case further evidence of Pakistan as a hotbed of match-fixing and chose not to see the many Mohammed Amirs — the “vulnerable cricketer” ill equipped to deal with the familiar vices of wine, women and money, all of which have invaded the game — in Indian cricket.
Sudhindra, Srivastava, Mishra, Yadav and Bali differ from Amir only in their average abilities. Where Amir was an outstanding fast bowler with a bright future, these five are mediocre cricketers who earn a pittance when compared with even the Kohlis and Rainas of the country, and very likely know they will never gain comparable wealth or fame. This makes these average cricketers particularly vulnerable to malicious influences. After all, they stand to gain a lot in terms of money and stand to lose very little in terms of a career.
The large pool of average players represent, perhaps, the weakest link in any fight against corruption in the game. India needs to set up an institutional mechanism that proactively counsels these players and vigorously polices the entire system.
In a strange coincidence, three days before India TV aired its sting operation, the Board of Control for Cricket in India named Ravi Sawani, the former head of the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption and security unit, to head a new domestic anti-corruption bureau. Despite match-fixing scandals of the past, India is only the fourth country — after Pakistan, Australia and England — to set up such a domestic unit. That reveals India’s weak intent, rather than BCCI president N. Srinivasan’s assertion of “zero tolerance” for match fixing.
Egregious on-field incidents are next to impossible to investigate. Consider a deliberately dropped catch or a no-ball deliberately bowled — two common devices employed in spot-fixing. The best of cricket pundits cannot call these. Until Amir’s no-balls were replayed, nobody ever suspected them to have been bowled deliberately for a price. To then suspect every error in a game as deliberate simply would destroy the very fabric of the game.
Unlike on-field lapses, other allegations can and should be investigated. The sting operation has served to shine a fresh light on the game’s old scourge but little is known about the scale of these deals. The IPL — by all accounts, a vulgar display of money power and underclad cheerleaders on the sidelines — has attracted a lot of allegations. In fact, a previous boss, Lalit Modi, has alleged fixing of player auctions. Now India TV raises under-the-table payments to cricketers, over and above the auctioned amounts, by owners of the franchises.
To BCCI’s credit, its response to the India TV sting was quick. Within 24 hours of the videos being aired, its officials held a tele-conference, some of them watched original video clips provided by the television channel, and suspended the five cricketers implicated.
But will it go all the way and clean its stables?