Fixing in Cricket, Part One: The Disease
Fixing of any kind, be it spot fixing or match fixing, is a sporting disease. Once the possibility exists in spectators’ minds that the game of sport they are watching has been fixed — in other words, the result has been decided in advance — that possibility becomes arguably the biggest challenge facing the sport. It infects every moment of the match from within the minds of onlookers, casting doubt on whether the players can be trusted. It spreads to the umpires, the coaching staff, the governing bodies, and finally the game itself.
If fixing is allowed to carry on unchecked, it will ultimately drive fans, and therefore income, away from the sport. That’s bad for everyone. In part, this is already happening as doubt sets in following repeated revelations of spot fixing. Fans know it’s happening on some level, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to speculate at how far cricket fixing has gone — or to begin giving up on something you’ve cherished for years (as this emotive blog post suggests).
In this first part of a two-part article, I’ll take a look back at how fixing has become such a central concern in the cricket world.
Two high-profile spot fixing cases in cricket
The basic conceit of spot fixing is that players receive money from an outside agent to ensure specific incidents happen during a match. The agent then bets a large amount of money on that incident occurring, usually at highly favourable odds, and receives a big payout. It’s difficult to detect, given how small it is in the overall context of a match, and therefore appealing to those with an appetite for quick money and few scruples regarding illegal activity.
On 28 June 2013, former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt admitted to spot fixing during a Test series against England in 2010. Butt’s admission of guilt came after he spent years refuting allegations of spot fixing. Following sting operations by now-defunct British newspaper News of the World, British courts alleged Butt had colluded with fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, as well as sporting agent and bookmaker Mazhar Majeed, to ensure no balls were bowled at particular times during a match.
All four received jail sentences, and Butt was given a ten-year ban by the International Cricket Council (ICC). His subsequent attempts to clear his name were unsuccessful, and it seems his statement on 28 June was an effort to take responsibility for his actions and put the sorry episode behind him.
The Pakistan case was the highest profile example of spot fixing in cricket until 2013, when three Rajasthan Royals players in the Indian Premier League (IPL) were accused of deliberately conceding a certain number of runs in an over. One of the players, Sreesanth, was a former international player for India. (At the time of writing, the IPL case remains before the courts.)
One wonders what else is going on away from the public eye, especially in a high-stakes, big-money tournament like the IPL. How deep does the cricket spot fixing rabbit hole go?
A flashpoint at the turn of the century
Going back a little further, there is the sad story of Hansie Cronje, South Africa’s cricket captain from 1995-2000. Just as his career was reaching its apex, it was revealed that Cronje had had extensive interactions with bookmakers, even as far as attempting to fix entire matches.
In legal proceedings, Cronje implicated South African teammates Nicky Boje, Herschelle Gibbs, Pieter Strydom, and Henry Williams, as well as former India captain Mohammad Azharuddhin. Further allegations of match fixing spread to several other international players, including Sachin Tendulkar, the biggest star in India. Tendulkar responded to speculation about his involvement by saying, “The nation knows I am clean.” His reputation was such that the nation did indeed believe him.
Cronje, meanwhile, who had also previously been perceived as above moral reproach, was banned by the United Cricket Board of South Africa from the any involvement in cricket for life. It was a powerful message to the cricketing world: indulge in match fixing and you’re out. Barely two years later, Cronje died in a plane crash aged just 32, a final shock to end a very eventful and public life.
“It was the voice of a very well known India cricketer”
Returning to 2013, cricket blogger Subash Jayaraman published an incendiary interview with former Sports Illustrated India editor Kadambari Murali on his Couch Talk podcast. In the interview, Murali discussed extended investigation by an SI reporter into spot fixing in the IPL, beginning with the following:
“The whole thing began because of taped recordings on the phone of a bookie. He played it back for us. It was the voice of a very well known India cricketer. He was basically berating the bookie for calling him directly, because the bookie was calling him to protest that — this is interesting — the particular spot fixing promise has not been done.”
(Listen/read the full conversation between Jayaraman and Murali here.)
Murali went on to detail her dealings with top Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) officials, who were reticent to pursue legal action because of a lack of proof. What Murali and her team had uncovered, however, was a) the widespread existence of spot fixing in IPL cricket, and b) that the BCCI was aware of what was happening. Her final words were unequivocal in damning the effect any kind of fixing has on sport:
“If you think every match was fixed, or spot-fixing has happened, and begin questioning, then cynicism creeps in. And cynicism kills the sport.”
Part Two: A small but vital mercy
The fixing disease, which began spreading across cricket in the 1990s, has the potential to destroy the game. It’s taken some of the game’s biggest stars with it, and cricket authorities act powerless to stop it.
But despite all this, genuine cricket match fixing — as in, the result is decided before the game — seems improbable. In Part Two: There Is Hope, I’ll try to explain why.