Pakistan lost the semi-final of the “hugely important” cricket tournament that stops the world, the Champion’s Trophy, in October last year. At that time, a cricketer sent me an email to say that during many moments in that match, Pakistan wasn’t trying. In the following weeks, other cricketers and one official contacted me with similar stories. Not all about Pakistanis, but about players of all the major Test-playing nations and how they spent some of their time not playing to win.
My favourite story was about one Indian Cricket League game where both sides appeared to be trying to lose.
All these people were worried about the game of cricket and thought that, as a blogger, I could say things that print journalists couldn’t say. I repeated their concerns that were all hearsay or based on cricket logic, but no one really reacted to my nameless, baseless and factually bereft ramblings. I did not have 150,000 pounds to spend on a sting operation like an English tabloid. The one potential match fixer I was put in touch with never responded to my email.
Perhaps I was not built for undercover work.
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While no players have been found guilty as of yet, the News of the World story certainly looks watertight and means that these concerned parties were onto something.
Even before this latest scandal, most cricketers knew or assumed spot fixing was going on. Some believe the ICL and its rebel-unsanctioned nature brought it back, others believe the bookies had been hiding long enough since Hansie Cronje was caught. While the money and bookmakers come from India, and the current players in question are Pakistani, the problem is way more than some dirty little subcontinental thing.
In English domestic cricket, Mervyn Westfield has been accused and arrested for spot fixing in a game for Essex from last year. It’s fair to say that the game was so inconsequential that visitors to the ground probably forgot they were there. Rumours fly around county cricket about strange goings on and what might motivate them. With more Australian domestic games being telecast in India and elsewhere, it could be happening here as well.
While the obvious reasons behind players getting involved are generally financial, there has been other theories bandied about. Former Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson and others have said that it is not uncommon for player’s families to be threatened with harm or kidknap for fixes to be performed. It is also fair to say that Pakistani cricketers are definitely not the best paid in cricket, but they are paid more than the Bangladeshi players, yet Shakib Al Hasan reported his run-ins with potential fixers.
What is also distressing is that this was not some anonymous “John the Bookie” type situation; Mazhar Majeed was a well-known player agent for many of the Pakistani players. While few of us ever trust player agents, we didn’t think that they would be this actively involved in the fixing of cricket.
It seems that cricket fans are divided on the punishment for the fix. Some believe everyone involved (no one is sure how many players that is yet) should be banned for life and that donkeys should be stoned. Others believe that a couple of no-balls aren’t that big of a deal. The stoning of donkeys should be stopped, and the problem with the no-ball theory is that it was just no-balls to prove that Majeed had control over the players.
Marlon Samuels, a West Indies batsman, was suspended for two years for giving information to bookmakers. Surely even the most lenient cricket officials will have to give more than four years as a punishment. Although a Pakistani cricket punishment is sort of like a grounding from a forgetful father.
While News of the World might have completely lost the plot when it suggested it was the worst scandal in sporting history (they’re obviously not Chicago White Sox fans), this is something that cricket will have to work out. Any fixing is a problem in sport, and Majeed has already alleged that the Sydney Test fightback from Australia might have had something to do with the odds on offer.
The problem is that finding spot fixing, is not really that easy. Do you think you could spot the difference between a bowler bowling two wides in an over on purpose or by accident? How many times would Shaun Tait, Steve Harmison or Mitchell Johnson be accused unfairly.
We can’t rely on players as they are only human, some less so, the ICC can’t do much right, so chances are they won’t make this their one victory. Individual boards are likely to protect players involved, as Australia and Pakistan has already done in the past. I’m not sure where that leaves us.
The only hope is that now players have been caught and the emphasis will be on cleaning up the game, and perhaps a scandal involving Lord’s will be enough to scare a few fixers back into the dark alleys they came from.