For cricket's sake: ICC, get ruthless on 'fixer' umpires

It’s quite common in local tournaments, at least the allegations are. Umpires in cahoots with tournament organisers give favourable verdicts to ensure that particular teams win. Whenever the foul play is discovered by the 'victim' team it goes for instant justice - it’s usually a good thrashing. Bleeding referees or umpires being taken off the field is not a pleasing sight. But that is how it goes.

Fixing the umpires is the easiest to way to elicit tradeable information about a given match or even fix its result. It’s curious that everybody missed it. At one level those officiating the matches are privy to many sensitive information - the pitch report, players’ list etc. At another, they can influence results by spurious decisions. This is difficult given the additional protective layers added to the decision-making these days but it’s possible if a set of umpires connive.

For bookies and their agents involved in match-fixing, more specifically other more nuanced variations of betting, umpires should be the primary targets. Players have been in fixing controversies for well over a decade - the latest being the case of Pakistani cricketers Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir. But it’s interesting that the betting and fixing debate never involved umpires.

Nadeem Ghauri is one of the umpires accused in the latest TV sting. Reuters

It’s possible that some umpires have succumed to temptations offered by the bookies in the past. There have been some atrocious decisions on the field but these have been forgiven as human error. It’s also possible that some sensitive information on playing condition and other peripherals have been exchanged for money in the past. One hopes the cricket establishment have been alert to such foul play. If they have not been earlier then they should take serious note of the India TV expose.

What’s worrisome is all of those caught on camera willing to share information with bookies - undercover reporters in this case - for money are from the sub-continent. Three of the umpires agreed to give favourable decisions. One umpire shared the pitch and toss reports for the pre-tournament match between England and Australia for Rs 50,000. Fortunately, all of them were second rungers and none of them were officiating in big matches.

It’s not clear whether they are actually culpable of any crime but it’s evident that despite so much hullabaloo over match-fixing, the menace continues to stay strong and all those directly involved in the game remain vulnerable to temptation. The message is clear: punishing a few players is fruitless unless you come down hard on the backroom operators who have the power of money, muscle and access.

With so much of cricket being played in the region and given the propensity of many actors to look for easy money, there’s reason to be more vigilant. Darrell Hair, the former ICC elite panel umpire, is not at all surprised by the development. He says such rumours have been doing the rounds since the Indian Premier League took off. “I was wondering how long it would take before some umpire did some stupid things,” he said. It’s possible some of the IPL matches have been fixed too.

The damage from the fixing scandals on the game is incalculable. It brings cricket under a cloud of suspicion and makes everything about it suspect. It kills the purity of the game and the innocence and honesty so intrinsic to it. We don’t know the complete truth about the TV sting yet but the action against the culprits, if there are some, should be ruthless. The ICC must go hammer and tongs at them and make the punishment exemplary.

We cannot allow cricket to be hijacked by thugs. And umpires of all people? God! give them better sense.

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