THE unpalatable truth is that the ICC can do very little to stop spot-fixing in international cricket. This has been apparent ever since Hansie Cronje, captain of South Africa, was exposed as a greedy cheat in 2000.
Cronje showed remorse, perhaps genuine, though he was probably more upset at being caught. He was forced to own up to spot-fixing as the result of compromising cellphone conversations with underworld characters recorded by Indian police, and he never admitted anything that was not put to him at the King Inquiry. He was proud to insist that he never threw an actual match, though he did entertain the idea in the presence of an incredulous dressing room.
Yet some people in South Africa were satisfied that Cronje had made “a mistake” and that he should be forgiven and allowed back into the game. Apologists, presumably those who did not understand sport, even remembered him as a saintly figure who carried the sins of others. In short, his misdemeanors had been a blip.
The ICC can ban mobile phones from dressing rooms and keep peripheral people at a distance during match days. That helps, but the bottom line is that a sector of society sees fixing incidents in a mere game as none too serious. Compared with murder and violence, it isn’t serious, even though the consequences are far-reaching. Tainted sport is undermined as a meaningful event, and that is all. That is very very damaging for sports followers, but the courts would have a hard job proving that no-balls and dropped catches are deliberate.
The possible charges against Mazhar Majeed would be for defrauding bookmakers and not for ruining professional cricket. Even the players under a cloud — Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and the captain Salman Butt after allegedly arranging no-balls at certain points in the match — will not face a prison term.
The best defence against the fixers is for the players themselves to report any approaches immediately, as already required. That is what the home boards expect of all those with international aspirations. Players are told that co-operating with fixers over something ‘harmless’ such as the weather or a wide would leave them open to blackmail and far deeper involvement.
Pakistan players have become more vulnerable than ever. There has been so little income after terrorist activity ruled out international home matches. Relatively low pay leaves all of them open to the temptation of great wealth.
There was a rumour circulating after the 1999 World Cup in England that an England seam bowler was offered a few thousand for starting with a wide, which could be a normal occurrence. How many readers of this column could honestly say they would not bowl one wide early in a match with, say, £10,000 on offer?
The following year the Cronje story broke. Several Pakistan and India players were ‘at it’ and were exposed by circumstantial evidence that nevertheless did not withstand legal testing on appeal. Once a senior group in a team acquire the taste of corruption their influence becomes very powerful and invasive.