Is banning state leagues the panacea for fixing, after charges of match and spot-fixing in the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) and Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) have wrecked the standing of these tournaments? Some believe that all state association-run T20 leagues must be banned but others, including BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) chief Ajit Singh, assert that banning is not the solution.
The latest trigger for these debates is the shocking arrest of CM Gautam, one of the stars of Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup triumphs this past decade. He was arrested last week for alleged match-fixing in KPL.
Additionally, on Friday, the police arrested bookie Sayyam on arrival at the New Delhi international airport. The cops had earlier revealed that he was a key accused in the case and that he had fled to the West Indies as soon as news of initial arrests broke out.
Officials say that Sayyan was in West Indies during the Caribbean Premier League and in South Africa during their T20 league and that he was in touch with a few franchise owners and players. They said that if he sings, more players in TNPL, KPL and Rajasthan Premier League and a few others associated with the game could be in a soup.
Ajit Singh, ACU chief, who believed that links between the likes of Sayyam and franchise owners existed, said that instead of banning state-run leagues the Board needed to examine ownership modules.
That said, it is the arrest of Gautam, a soft-spoken, smart cricketer, whose ability with bat, in particular, was commendable, that has cricket circles in turmoil. Gautam was a seasoned cricketer. He had played 94 first-class matches, been part of three IPL franchises and was a coveted player in KPL. Thanks to the match fees, bonuses, awards, etc in Ranji Trophy, IPL, KPL the wicketkeeper-batsman probably had earned three to four crore rupees from the game alone. Hence, when he succumbed to the allure of bookies it shocked the fraternity no end.
It is possible that his not being a part of the state Ranji Trophy team after the 2017 season made him vulnerable to approaches from undesirable elements. But that really is no excuse. Irrespective of Gautam’s guilt or innocence, a revealing reality of match-fixing is that a player’s wealth does no ring-fence him from sleaze and corruption. The late 1990s-2000 scandal which exposed a few very well-off international cricketers is a classic example that wealth is no defence against the lure of bookies.
These big shot cricketers succumbed to greed and some were promptly caught and slapped with life bans. Their sleazy connections were traced to the Middle East and confirmed Sharjah as the hot-bed of cricketing corruption. Consequently, bi-annual ODI tournaments, which were staged in that Emirate, ground to an abrupt halt. With it, former Pakistani captain Asif Iqbal’s brainchild, CBFS (Cricketers Benevolent Fund Series) passed into history.
A dozen or so years after that match-fixing scandal of 2000, it seemed like a déjà vu when a few IPL players were snared in the spot-fixing scandal of 2012-13 and were even jailed for their transgressions.
But in almost all these cases, relating to both 2000 and 2013 scandals, the accused were let off the hook on various counts: Lack of evidence or failure of BCCI to follow procedure or in one celebrated case, not allowing the accused the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or rebut their testimony. Courts also held that the appointment of K Madhavan, former CBI Joint Director, as commissioner to enquire into the charges was against the rules and regulations of BCCI. Pointedly, there was also no law in India against match or spot-fixing.
Thus, virtually all the high-profile accused in the 2000 and 2012-13 match and spot-fixing charges got away.
This inability of the Board and the police to punish the alleged offenders could probably have contributed to bookies convincing KPL, TNPL and other players that there was low-risk, easy money to be made.
While the immediate belief is that money helped sway some players to sell their souls, bookies are a smart lot. They spend time and money studying potential player-victims and identifying their weaknesses. Some are susceptible to lucre, plain and simple. But there are others who could be honey-trapped or compromised with gifts, favours and the like. Once a player is compromised his handler reels him in as and when required.
But the underlying theme of these tales is of greed and it is this weakness that is tapped so successfully by handlers and bookies. It matters little whether a player is domestic or international, gets paid a few lakhs or a few crores from the game, is well paid or very well paid — if it is in his character to be greedy and cheat he will do so.
It is this tale that we’ve seen from Sharjah to Tests to ODIs to IPL to KPL and so on. Banning an event — like Sharjah for instance — cannot stem the rot. Likewise banning KPL, TNPL would be an exercise in futility. The BCCI needs to get a lot smarter than just do some window dressing or immediate damage control.
Suing the cricketers for damaging the goodwill of the game and a tournament or franchise’s standing could be a good way to ensure that corrupt players do not get away scot-free. The BCCI could also help law enforcement authorities and legislators to write a code on how to outlaw fixing and make it an offence punishable by law. However, that would call for genuine teamwork across the spectrum. Is the faction-ridden BCCI up to it?
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