Like most Indians, I have followed cricket since I began to walk. It’s difficult to exactly say why we like the game of cricket more than football or even our national game, hockey. Maybe it had something to do with the way the cricketers conduct themselves and the way it is played — it is all very stylish. For a viewer, it is aesthetically pleasing and satisfying to watch great batting and bowling. The game has the capacity to stoke varying ambitions in young impressionable minds to be a bowler, batsmen, wicket keeper, fielder or even a commentator. When we were growing up we never knew that the game would spawn another category: a fixer.
Having said that I am not really sure how fixers control the outcome of cricket matches in a team game. Take for instance the allegations that the Delhi Police is making against the maverick fast bowler of India and Rajasthan Royals, S Sreesanth. Delhi Police cops say that he was using his hand towel to send out messages to the fixers and bettors about spot fixing. Also, Sreesanth was mandated to give 14 runs in one particular over. Anyone who knows cricket can safely claim that the bowler alone cannot control the number of runs or course of the game. Both bowler and batsmen need to be on the take or be on the same page to meet the exacting demands of the bettors. The case made out by the Delhi Police was only against the bowlers — three of them to be precise. So Sreesanth even if he confesses that he fixed match or an over it is actually — half of the story. The case of Ashraful Haq of Bangladesh, it is slightly different.
Life of a bowler is not easy; he is expected to toil in conditions that normally favour batsmen in limited over matches. Worse, he has to defend himself from charges of being mixed up with bettors and fixers and throwing away matches. Surely, police investigators cannot be telling the truth when they say that the bowler alone can dictate the course of the match. It seems unlikely as in this game of monumental uncertainties anything can happen: great batsmen could get out at an ordinary ball or a fielder, who is not fixed, could pluck a catch from nowhere and cause grief to the best laid plans of fixers and the compromised players. One must remember that cricket is a team game, where one bad ugly fish cannot really determine match result. Something is really not right about the course of the investigation and it is important to flip the pages of the contemporary fixing history to get wiser on what does the latest IPL scam really mean.
The first serious investigation into the cricket fixing took place in 1999 by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This took place in the wake of a scandalous intercept by the Delhi Police where the South African Cricket Captain late Hansie Cronje was talking to a Delhi based cricket bettor and match fixer. Subsequent investigation by the police had revealed the involvement of former Indian cricket captain M Azharuddin and senior cricketers like Ajay Jadeja, Ajay Sharma, wicket keeper Nayan Mongia in fixing. Former cricket captain and India’s legendary all rounder, Kapil Dev, barely escaped the charge of being a player who played dirty due to inadequate evidence. Although Indian legal system has no provision for fixing, which is largely seen from the prism of cheating, this crime is more moral as it undermines the purity of the game. So the burden of protecting the sanctity of the game rests on those who run it — like captain of the team and the Board of Cricket Control in India. The 1999 probe and subsequent cricketing scandals have made it amply clear that the matches cannot be fixed if the administrators of the game don’t want it.
CBI investigation of 1999 talked about huge amount of money involved in illegal betting whenever the game related to India. That was in 1999 when fewer games were played in comparison to now when there is a proliferation of all kinds of matches. The IPL 20-20 league has made the cricketing calendar busier. Now the money riding on cricket betting must be running into billions of dollars. When the scandal broke in 1999, many administrators had worried that those who were involved in fixing could be hauled up under the prevention of corruption act as they were playing under the national flag. Although, the CBI report was illuminating, no attempt was made to prevent fixing in matches. Instead the BCCI devised the Indian Premier League where such irritants like playing for the nation did not really matter. The belief was the BCCI could leverage cricket’s extraordinary popularity in India, and create a league similar to the European football league, and attract big funds into the game. The revenue model was to sell the IPL franchisees to money bags that in turn made money through television rights, gate money and branding. What it meant was that everything had to be sold. At that time gullible masses did not realize that the glitter of cheer girls and Bollywood stars were creating a smokescreen to hide the fact that even the outcome of the matches were being sold.
Cricket obsessed media and masses got the first whiff of the rot in IPL when the game’s first commissioner and flamboyant Lalit Modi was accused of stripping of BCCI funds, profits and everything else. Enforcement directorate( ED) found foreign exchange violations against him. Fearing long period of incarceration, he is now a fugitive from justice and uses twitter and media to rave and rant against N Srinivasan, the BCCI chief whose son-in-law Meiyappan was found involved in match fixing also. Srinivasan was forced to resign till the probe into the affairs was completed. Later it was revealed that one of the owners of Rajasthan Royals, Kundra, was also quietly betting on his own team. Reports suggest that even Chennai Super Kings owners would not be able to escape charges of fixing. If three teams have been found to be mixed up with the unsavoury and dirty world of match fixing then what about the others? Little is really known about the others, but owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, Shahrukh Khan and Pune teams owner Sahara’s, Subrato Roy have had their brush with law.
The truth is that petty players cannot fix matches. They might be doing some small spot fixing to make a fast buck on what they can do: bowl a no ball, etc. The real manipulation is done at the level of a crooked captain — as in the case of Hansie Cronje, Salman Butt or even Mohammad Ashraful — or by the owners who are desperate to make profits. They team up with the Dubai underworld or other betting syndicates to make whopping profits. The implications of this relationship are mind boggling. So when the Delhi police ask ED to look into the hawala linked to cricket then they are on the right trail as the real story resides there. Most of the teams survive due to unexplained wealth that gets funnelled into the cricketing system every year from Dubai and elsewhere. Over the last six years, most of the franchisees have done very badly financially. Deccan Chronicle was forced to sell its team. Deccan Chargers, to Sun TV and Kingfisher barely hangs on to its team. Despite its troubles, business houses and politicians are desperate to align themselves with the game due to the influence and legitimacy it provides to them.
Sanjay Kapoor is the Editor of Delhi based Hardnews Magazine (www.hardnewsmedia.com). Hardnews is also the South Asian partner of Paris based publication, Le Monde Diplomatique.