x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Disparity among cricketers breeds envy, fixing and the Majeeds

With Twenty20 leagues mushrooming everywhere and such disparity between the incomes of players, temptation from the bookies is never far away.

It was the day after one of India's most humiliating Test defeats. Australia had won by 342 runs at Nagpur in October 2004, and with it clinched a series on Indian soil for the first time in 35 years.

The airport departure lounge saw a motley crew. Indian players stared glumly into space or chatted quietly. Journalists tapped away at their keyboards, and fans tried to make the most of any photo opportunities that presented themselves.

The team for the final Test had been announced, and a young player dropped from the team after a string of below-par performances sat a few seats away from this correspondent.

It was hard not to feel for him. Hailed as a prodigy on his debut, he was now one of the objects of fan ire.

As he listened to music and checked his telephone, a smartly dressed individual came and sat between us. Without any prelude, he started talking about the player's axing. "Young promising player," he told me, making no attempt to introduce himself.

Within minutes, it became apparent what he was after. The player had a contract with an electronics firm, but the full amount would be paid up only if he represented India in a certain number of games. He was still a couple of matches short of that target.

"Poor kid," the man continued. "It's a lot of money. All the media criticism didn't help his chances."

Mr 10 per cent didn't bother to mention how much he stood to lose. And once it became clear that he didn't have a captive listener, he got up and tried his luck elsewhere.

It was hard not to think of that incident as Mazhar Majeed and those that were once his clients competed at London's Southwark Crown Court to see who could be least economical with the truth.

It would be all too easy to write off the spot-fixing debacle as Pakistan's problem. It isn't.

With Twenty20 leagues mushrooming everywhere and such disparity between the incomes of players, temptation is never far away.

In England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, where betting on sport is not an illegal activity, unusual patterns are quickly investigated by the bookmakers.

On the subcontinent, where staking money on sport is against the law, the odds are fixed and manipulated by shadowy figures from the world of organised crime. Here, unusual patterns see huge fortunes being made and lost.

You often hear the refrain that there's too much money in Indian cricket for players to be tempted by the dark side. There is no greater fallacy. When the Royal Challengers Bangalore paid US$350,000 (Dh1.285m) for Praveen Kumar before the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) season, he had played just a handful of one-day games for India.

Some of his Uttar Pradesh teammates who had never been capped were signed on by IPL franchises for Rs3 million (Dh224,860).

Those that did not make the cut had to be content with their Ranji Trophy earnings of Rs35,000 a game.

Anyone who believes that such disparity doesn't breed the kind of envy and resentment that allegedly fuelled Salman Butt's misdeeds is plain delusional.

The agent who argued in favour of Mr Young Potential seven years ago still works in Indian cricket. Most of his ilk are in no way qualified for the jobs they perform. But with at least nine IPL franchises requiring their services as well, there is no better time to be in the Majeed business.

That is all the more reason why, a decade on from the match-fixing scandal that ended Mohammad Azharuddin's career on 99 Tests, Indian cricket cannot afford to drop its guard.

 

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