It’s been a crazy month in the cricketing world. It’s been 10 years since Hansie Cronje confessed to the world about his role in throwing matches away. Heroes became villains and the cricketing world was in turmoil. Ten years on, with T20 cricket gaining popularity and the IPL’s success, there have been allegations of match fixing once again.I’ll be naïve if I’ll say ball-by-ball betting never went, but it’s done in a smarter way today. Paul Condon, the outgoing head of the ICC’s anti-corruption unit himself told Andrew Miller in a CricInfo interview that match fixing would never be eradicated. “Fixing needs really two things: a cricket match and the ability to bet on it. It is the most bet-upon sport in the world - no other sport gets close, not even horse-racing. The sums of money are phenomenal. You can have up to a billion dollars being bet on a single match, and in that respect, it's no surprise that a tiny number of players get lured into malpractice. The challenges that world sport now face around gambling, in a way, are similar to those involving performance-enhancing drugs in the 1970s and 1980s. In a way, it was never entirely overcome but it was certainly controlled.”
And in the middle of this madness, Sharad Pawar takes over as ICC chief.
Considering that India is such a cricket crazy nation, I’m surprised that very few newspapers highlighted the fact that Sharad Pawar is going to be the next ICC president. I read it on CricInfo myself and most of the newspapers the next day were going gung-ho about Wimbledon and the Fifa World Cup.
Now I have serious problems about Sharad Pawar taking over the ICC. I’m sure that the guy is an astute politician and a brilliant administrator, but his alleged links with Dawood Ibrahim isn’t what the game needs, considering that there are new allegations of match fixing with respect to the Pakistan side. Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has in fact gone on record to say that there could have been instances where players were paid to lose the series against Australia. We’ll never know the truth, of course unless someone’s phone is tapped like they did for Hansie Cronje.
There are allegations against Pawar and some may say that he is innocent until proven guilty, but I don’t see that working here. In 1995, a report filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs alleges that there was a definite nexus between underworld don Dawood Ibrahim's associates and Pawar. According to the report, Mool Chand Shah alias Choksi—a hawala racketeer also involved in the Jain case and "close to Dawood Ibrahim and gang"—had, on various occasions between December 1979 and October 1992,transferred or paid Rs 72 crore to Pawar.
Cricket is still the most popular game in India, but fans are more cynical. They love Tendulkar, but question whether the opposition was paid to bowl badly when he made all those centuries. They see India lose a final and question the integrity of the players.
A friend of mine, who was an ex-student of the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai did a report on the match-fixing situation in cricket today. She spoke to several people, including bookies and C Sridhar, the DCP, Crime Branch Chennai police, who all agreed that betting was still huge in India. Sridhar actually went on record to tell her that, the minimum betting amount starts from Rs. 500 and runs into crores. Most of those, who invest large amounts, are the businessmen. “As opposed to belief, it’s not the anti-social elements that place money,” he states.
But here, we don’t know the businessman’s history. We don’t know the kind of links he has. We don’t know why he’s betting so much. There are a million questions that we have, but there are no answers. Even the Bombay police, which has been busy targeting betters, can’t find anyone guilty today.
But we’re back at Pawar. There are a number of things that we have to take into consideration here, even if we don’t look at his alleged underworld links. Will his being president help Lalit Modi in any way? Will there be a new twist in the Lalit Modi-BCCI drama? These are questions that will be answered in the next few weeks.
But my biggest concern is whether his alleged connections will the underworld see their role in the game once again? I’m sure that they never left, but they’ve not been in the spotlight since Sharjah was scrapped as a playing venue.
Are there any good things that will come out of his becoming ICC president? In my opinion there is one and it’s a big one. He has asked the Prime Minister to reshuffle the cabinet so that he can balance his work. Hopefully, we’ll get a new agriculture minister, who can do some work.