Betting the spirit of the game

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Saturday, April 8, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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The volcano of suspicion has erupted once again with hot lava of betting and match-fixing charges being thrown up in the face of the South African captain Hansie Cronje and four of his colleagues. The Delhi police chief revealed the allegation through a transcript of a sensational telephonic conversation between the South African captain and a businessman from Delhi, who is now based in London. The conversation allegedly took place on the eve of the third one-day international between India and South Africa at Faridabad.

The transcript of the recorded telephone conversation clearly indicates a likely deal between South African captain Hansie Cronje and the man alleged to be a big bookmaker, for having the match being fixed as a defeat for the visitors, with the captain assuring the "co-operation" of four other players, Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje, Pieter Strydom and a name that has been mentioned in the transcript as "Williams".

The latest charges being made by the Delhi police against the South African captain takes us back to the biggest controversy to hit the game of cricket since the body-line series of 1932-33.

It may be recalled that the lid was lifted on the shady goings on in the form of big betting and likely match-fixing by three Australian players -- Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Tim May, who alleged that in 1994, they had been approached by the then Pakistani captain, Salim Malik, with an offer of five lakh US dollars to help and tank the match so that victory would ultimately go to Pakistan.

A retired Lahore High Court judge Justice Qayyum had headed a one-man inquiry commission and a detailed inquest, which had taken the commission head along with a team of legal experts to Australia to have the three Australian depose before the commission.

Along with this issue Justice Qayyum was also appointed to inquire into betting and match-fixing charges against some other Pakistani players made by their own colleagues, notably, former captain and wicket-keeper Rashid Latif.

Salim Malik was exonerated by the Qayyum commission and was reinstated into the Pakistan team. The findings of the bigger inquiry against a handful of Pakistani players have been submitted to the Pakistan Cricket board, but have not been made public.

In Australia, Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May, were fined nominal sums on their submission that they had received money from an Indian bookie for forwarding information about the weather, pitch report and composition of the final playing eleven, during the triangular series in Sri Lanka in 1994, a fact that was concealed by them for almost five years.

At almost the same time, Indian all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar had dropped a bombshell when he had revealed that he was approached with "an offer of Rs 20 lakh to play badly so as to lead to the team's defeat. The offer was made by one of my teammates".

To date, Prabhakar has not mentioned the Indian player involved, as he believes that he is not sure of "protection to his life".

This had led to the Board of Control for Cricket in India setting up a similar one-man inquiry commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud. After questioning about nearly 50 cricket persons, including some past and present players, journalists and cricket administrators, the Chandrachud Commission gave a clean chit to all the players, who were then members of the Indian team when the charges made by Prabhakar.

Then, during last summer's Test series in England, Chris Lewis had made a sensational expose that a cricket promoter from India had approached him in London to "play ball to help alter the outcome of a Test match." He had quoted a figure of 200,000 pound sterling.

The FBI had sent a representative to India to make inquiries of the Indian promoters alleged to have been involved. But the reputed investigation agency came to a dead end with their inquiry as no admissible evidence was found.

As has been the fate of several such investigative issues involving cricketers and outsiders in betting and match-fixing charges, it will perhaps be difficult to see any agency having the right, under the present legal system, to launch prosecution of any sort against any player, notwithstanding the transcript of a telephone conversation.

The South African cricket administration has already dubbed the charges against their captain, as "sensational," "unbelievable" and "unacceptable." "It is completely wrong, and no such thing has ever happened," was a statement issued by a spokesman for the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA).

It is too early to say what will be the fall-out of the latest controversy. Involving, as it does, a player with probably the cleanest image in the game and a man who is known as one who hates to lose.

It is a matter of great irony that the sensational expose should have come when the world body for the game International Cricket Council is celebrating what has been named as "the ICC week, " with a match at Dhaka between and Asian XI and a World XI.

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