x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Match fixing cancer still plagues the game of cricket

A top magazine story confirms match-fixing is still rife and Dileep Premachandran pleads with authorities to stamp it out.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated, "shady characters" were seen at players' hotels during the Indian Premier League season in South Africa in 2009, which the Deccan Chargers won. Tom Shaw / Getty Images
According to a report by Sports Illustrated, "shady characters" were seen at players' hotels during the Indian Premier League season in South Africa in 2009, which the Deccan Chargers won. Tom Shaw / Getty Images

As far as a one-minute snippet from a conversation goes, this one is enough to send a chill down any Indian cricket lover's spine.

It forms part of nearly 400 hours of audio that Sports Illustrated's Indian edition has recorded as research for its May cover story, Cricket in a Fix.

While many in the media have been reluctant or slow to latch on to its significance, it merely confirms what many of us have known for years, that the match-fixing cancer never really went away. The conversation is of a bookmaker telling the magazine about a player having committed to fix a match.

The player did not come through and someone higher up the illegal gambling food chain asked the bookmaker to call the player and ask for an explanation.

When he did, the player abused him and hung up. The following day, one of the player's acquaintances called the bookmaker to clarify the situation.

He said that a Board of Control for Cricket in India official with suspicions of something being amiss had gone into the dressing room and issued a caution.

The player had heeded the warning and was now prepared to return the money that he had taken.

At other points in what is a detailed nine-page expose of the murky world inhabited by bookmakers and their influential patrons, an Indian cricket board official is quoted as saying that the same player had been warned during the second season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) — shifted to South Africa at the last minute — because of the dubious company that he kept.

There is another conversation where a bookmaker's aide tells the correspondent that he called up the player during a Twenty20 international — players are banned from using phones inside the dressing room under International Cricket Council (ICC) guidelines — to inquire about a spot-fixing deal, allegedly worth 50 million Rupees (Dh4.1 million), gone wrong.

"While we were not privy to him calling up the player in question, the player's personal numbers he had were correct and some of the details and team information he had were startling," says the magazine.

"This man, incidentally, is not remotely connected to cricket in any obvious way — he is not a player, a sports agent, a sponsor, an official, a media person, a PR rep, a relative or a friend of a player or even a fan. To him, as he says, it's business."

Over the coming days, those of the three-monkeys persuasion — "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" — will either ignore the story or claim that it is an attempt to rock a happy World-Cup winning boat.

But Sports Illustrated is not some third-rate tabloid or a television channel with a ratings agenda. Both the editor and deputy editor have won awards for cricket journalism in India and have toured with the team for years.

Instead of going on the defensive and getting into a head-in-the-sand pose, ostrich style, Indian cricket needs to start making some tough calls.

The first of them concerns the IPL, and the access that dodgy individuals have to players. Certain board functionaries were greatly perturbed during the league's South African season because they had virtually no control over whom the players associated with.

"Several known shady characters based in the Middle East, but not seen in India, flew into South Africa and booked rooms in the players' hotels, both during last year's Champions League and the IPL's second season," says an official quoted in the SI story.

The second, and biggest, decision has to be with regard to player agents. A lot of "agents" are nothing more than third-rate chancers, with the potential to drag players down the route that the News of the World's hidden cameras exposed last August.

Sports agency is a profession like any other. To be one in the National Football League in the United States, you have to pass a written exam. England's Football Association has 16 pages of rules and regulations that player agents must follow. What guidelines are in place to monitor players' managers in India? Nothing.

It is a seedy free-for-all where opportunists with little or no connection to any sport are quick to cash in once a player makes a mark.

Like vultures, they circle around, with the younger players especially vulnerable. A senior journalist who covered the 2008 Under 19 World Cup - Virat Kohli captained India to victory - wrote of how a small group of agents had assembled there. Often, a pair of Oakley sunglasses or Nike shoes is all it takes for a starry-eyed and impressionable young kid to come under someone's influence.

SI have offered both the ICC and the Indian board access to their tapes and the other evidence that they have gathered. But no matter what emerges from an official investigation, if any, the current system cannot be allowed to continue.

No one should kid themselves with the thought that Indian players now make "enough" money to make them immune to temptation. For the greedy, or those compromised by their association with the crooked, there is no such thing.