HALL OF SHAME
Once a gentleman’s game, cricket today is sprinkled with underhand tactics and accusations of match-fixing. Aditya K Halder unravels the shameful incidences that have, over time, undermined the sanctity of the sport.
Tears and sympathy outpoured in equal proportion in Australia a week back in the wake of the latest ball-tampering scandal that saw two eminent Aussie cricketers, Steve Smith and David Warner, along with young Turk Cameron Bancroft, getting their name dragged in the mud. The purported "sticky yellow tape" which eventually turned out to be sandpaper, is still rubbing in the agonising memory of the Kangaroos and their fans, who were outmuscled by the South Africans 3-1.
Turns out, this is not the first time that cricket fanatics saw their favourite sports personalities stuck in the quagmire of tainted cricketers. However, it must be pointed out that many cricket experts, including the fans, believe that the sanction of a one year ban on Smith and Warner (nine months on Bancroft) was a tad bit harsh.
The incidents of tampering have been caught on camera on a handful of occasions (included names such as Sahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar and Rahul Dravid); but none of them was subject to such flak and sanction by their respective cricketing boards. In the past, when players have been subject to such scrutiny, they have been for far more egregious mistakes.
Azharuddin's & Kapil Dev's Saga
Images of the former Oz captain in tears bring back the vivid memory of another dewy-eyed former captain. Kapil Dev burst into tears in a similar fashion after he was quizzed about the match-fixing allegation on the BBC in 2001; the year of revelation of the dark side of Indian cricket.
Up until the 2001 match-fixing scandal, which saw former cricketer Manoj Prabhakar open up a large can of worms on the biggest sports personalities in the country, corruption in cricket was something unheard of. Names such as Kapil Dev and Mohammed Azharuddin, who maintained a God-like status in the cricket crazy nation, were in the eye of the storm.
The Tehelka match-fixing scandal that saw Manoj Prabhakar's desperate attempt to corroborate evidence against the 1983 world cup winning captain, prompted a CBI investigation. The probe eventually led to a lifetime ban on the fallen icons and a five-year ban on Ajay Jadeja and, ironically, Manoj Prabhakar himself.
Kapil was held guilty for allegedly offering Rs 25 lakh to Prabhakar for underperforming. Whereas, Azhar was convicted for fixing matches too, along with Ajay Sharma, for his nexus with the bookies—the CBI exerted pressure on him after Hansie Cronje confessed that Azhar introduced him to the bookies.
In 2012, however, the Andhra High Court withdrew the ban on Azhar as the bench said there wasn't enough evidence to prove the charges on the Arjuna Award winner. But, it didn't stop the International Cricket Council from not granting tickets to the stylish Hyderabadi batsman during the ICC Champions Trophy match between India and England as the ICC still didn't clear him off the match-fixing charges.
Hansie Cronje's Sad Ending
The flamboyant South African skipper, who was the flag bearer of non-white cricketers in the Proteas team, was found guilty of fixing ODI matches during the India tour. The incident came into the spotlight when the Delhi police released a transcript of an alleged telephonic conversation between the tainted Proteas veteran and bookie Sanjeev Chawla. It also maligned the names of other South Africans – Herschelle Gibbs, Pieter Strydom and Nicky Boje. The trio, however, was later acquitted of the charges.
The same couldn't be said about Cronje, who, four days after the releasing of tapes, confessed of wrongdoings to the South African cricket board head Ali Bacher of receiving a sum worth $10,000 to $15000 for giving away information on the match. Things only turned worse for Cronje who was later accused of further match-fixing during a Test match in England, a year earlier. On the Proteas skipper's advice, both teams forfeited their innings to contest in a nail-biting final-day encounter.
A few weeks later, a contingent of South African players came out with the confession that Cronje offered them money to underperform during matches. It worked as the final nail in the coffin as Cronje received a life ban. Sadly, the cricketer fell to untimely death two years later in June 2002, when his light cargo plane crashed in the mountains of George in South Africa while en route from Swaziland. An inquest into his death revealed that the crash was due to the pilot's negligence.
The incident that blinded the razzmatazz of the Indian Premier League for years was when Rajasthan Royal pacer S Sreesanth was caught up in a spot-fixing scandal along with other junior cricketers.
Delhi Police, who made the entire revelation, said that the Indian fast bowler bowled an over with a towel tucked into the band of his trousers (he did the previous over without towel). This was done purposely as a signal to the bookie that he will now fix the over. He gave away 14 runs, in tandem with his commitment to giving away more than 12 runs in the over.
The incident in its wake saw the arrest of Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan and 11 bookies. Subsequently, after due investigation and court procedure, the trio was given a ban for life in September 2013 by the BCCI. Sreesanth pleaded not guilty on multiple occasions; he also went on to say that it wasn't the first time he used a towel as he likes to imitate his South African bowling idol Allan Donald. In August 2017, after a rigorous hearing, Sreesanth was acquitted from the BCCI ban only for the sanction to be restored again in October.
Pakistan, for years, has been accused of mastering the dark art of ball-tampering. But being the poor cousin of their neighbour India, accepting money for deliberately bowling a no-ball during a Test match against England wasn't a big shock.
Pace battery of Pakistan Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were caught red-handed over-stepping the popping crease at specific points in an over that was used by gamblers to place bets. The duo, along with batsman Salman Butt, were handed sanctions for terms of five and ten years. Asif and Butt were further convicted by the London Court and handed a prison term ranging from six months to 32 months.
The revelation was made after a sting operation that saw sports agent Mazhar Majeed counting the bribe money indicating that Amir would purposely bowl a no-ball on his first ball of the over. During the match, Amir stepped half a metre away from the popping crease, sparking doubts of spot-fixing among experts.
Other Notable Mentions
West Indies veteran Marlon Samuels, who had his fair share of controversies such as illegal bowling action and feud with fellow players, was banned for two years by the ICC in 2008 after he disrupted the game by sharing intricate details of the game to bookies for monetary gain.
Pakistani wrist-spinner Danish Kaneria pulled a wrong'un when he was slapped a lifetime ban by the England & Wales Cricket Board in June 2012 after he was found guilty of corruption by a disciplinary panel in relation to the spot-fixing case involving Essex pacer Mervyn Westfield. Pakistan cricket board agreed to abide by the ban.
Whenever there has been an incident that maligns the gentleman's game, fans assume that a consequential severe sanction will be set as an ideal example that would put an end to the practice, once and for all.
But the uneven distribution of income among cricketers, coupled with bans on 30-odd players on various charges since 2000, suggests that underhand tactics are not going to end anytime soon.