19, 2000 VOL. 158 NO. 24
Certainly Isn't Cricket
wave of sleaze hits the "Gentleman's Game," as players are implicated,
organizers are blamed and fans are furious
By MICHAEL FATHERS New Delhi
Pakistan last week won the Asia Cup beating India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh
in the biennial tournament. But the celebrations that would normally mark
such a victory were muted. There was little interest in the matches, and
the crowds that normally mob the windows of television shops to follow
play were conspicuously absent. So too were the most visible signposts
of cricket's mass appeal in South Asia: the huge advertising billboards
from which the sport's heroes endorse everything from tires to toothpaste.
The once unquestioned support for cricket is showing signs of collapse.
The game, it seems, is going through a crisis of confidence.
ALSO IN TIME
the region and beyond, cricket is under a blanket of mistrust--its players
under suspicion, its administrators under fire and its fans growing angry.
Revelations over the past two months have exposed a worldwide network
of match-fixing, bribe-taking, corruption, sleaze, strong-arm tactics,
underworld links, cheating and official indifference that threatens to
undermine cricket's image as the "Gentleman's Game"--and to alienate its
mass following. The latest scandals that have come to light in India,
Pakistan and South Africa have touched every major cricketing country
and hit for six some of the game's most famous practitioners. Fans are
not amused. "It is now difficult to see any performance without doubting
it," says Annie Mathews, a New Delhi theatre and film production consultant
who used to be glued to her television set when India played. "Every run-out,
every umpiring decision, you wonder if it is actually true." Like Mathews,
millions of fans feel their favorite game has turned into a farce. In
an opinion poll conducted by the popular website nazara.com last week,
60.4% of respondents said the scandals had forever tainted cricket; only
19.8% said the sport would recover.
edition's table of contents
To the non-cricket-loving world the sport is eccentrically and quintessentially
English, played on a manicured oval lawn over five days--with breaks for
lunch and afternoon tea. The reality, however, is far different. The game
has been transformed into a gladiatorial contest often played under lights
and usually for just one day, sponsored by some of the world's biggest
corporations, carrying millions of dollars in bets--mostly illegal--and
commanding TV audiences in the millions. The epicenter of cricket has
also moved half-way around the world from the Marylebone Cricket Club
(mcc) at Lord's Cricket Ground in London to the Indian subcontinent, where
the sport has a mass following across caste, class and creed. "It is our
football," says V. Krishnaswamy, cricket commentator and sports editor
for the Indian Express group of newspapers.
And "our" means nearly a quarter of the world's population, squeezed into
four South Asian countries. With an audience that exceeds 1.2 billion
and has a taste for betting, a practice outlawed in most places, the game
is ripe for abuse. A complex sport, cricket offers hundreds of permutations
for wagering: individual batting and bowling performances, ways of being
dismissed, as well as the final result. And some punters, it turns out,
have enough money to roll a match. Close followers of the game have long
suspected foul play. Now it's out in the open.
As India's Central Bureau of Investigation last week broadened its inquiry
into charges of match-fixing, a judicial commission in Cape Town began
hearings into corruption in South African cricket. The commission, under
retired judge Edwin King, was set up after the country's cricketing hero
and captain, Hansie Cronje, admitted in April he had accepted between
$10,000 and $15,000 from Indian bookmakers for "forecasting and providing
information" during South Africa's tour of India last year. He was fired.
A born-again Christian and a hero to South African cricket fans, Cronje
was caught after police telephone taps in India picked up calls between
him and Indian bookmakers discussing payments. Betting is illegal in India,
except on horse racing. Cronje blamed Satan for his transgression and
said he had "taken his eyes off Jesus," an explanation that carried little
weight in South Africa and even less in India.
The hearings in Cape Town got under way with a series of sensational revelations.
South Africa's opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs said he had accepted an
offer of $15,000 through Cronje from bookmakers to score fewer than 20
runs at a match in India in March. He went on to score 74 and wasn't paid.
Retired spin bowler Pat Symcox alleged that, as far back as 1995, Cronje
had asked him what he thought of a $250,000 offer he had received to lose
a match against Pakistan. "I told him it was a bad idea," Symcox said.
And the team's security chief, a former police officer, said Cronje had
confessed to him in tears in April that he was guilty of match-fixing.
Last month, after much delay, the Pakistan Cricket Board finally made
public a government-ordered investigation into match-fixing. The board
acted apparently under pressure from cricket's controlling body, the London-based
International Cricket Council (icc), amid reports that Pakistan would
be suspended from competition if it did not carry out the inquiry's recommendations.
The board banned former captain Salim Malik and bowler Ata-ur-Rehman for
life for match-fixing and fined six other players for "improprieties."
Malik's accusers included Australian spin bowlers Shane Warne and Tim
May, and batsman Mark Waugh, who said he offered them cash to swing a
match during Australia's 1994 tour of Pakistan. Warne and Waugh were found
guilty the following year of taking money from bookmakers for "weather
reports and pitch conditions" during a tournament in Sri Lanka on the
same tour. They were fined by the Australian Cricket Board. In the same
week that Pakistan acted against players accused of match-fixing, the
Australian board appointed a special investigator to handle similar accusations
against the home squad.
But it was on India that the spotlight settled after retired all-rounder
Manoj Prabhakar and a journalist from the online magazine tehelka.com
made a secret video incriminating several leading figures in Indian cricket
and posted the transcripts on the Internet. Among those named were ex-captain
and now coach Kapil Dev who, Prabhakar alleges, offered him $57,000 to
throw a match against Pakistan in the Singer Cup tournament in Colombo
in 1994. (Dev denied the allegations and has filed a defamation suit against
Prabhakar and tehelka.com.) "My objective," says Prabhakar, "is to clean
up Indian cricket. I was expecting our boys to do the same as Hansie Cronje--come
forward and say, 'Yes, I've erred.'"
But experience has shown that no one in cricket comes forward unless caught
in the act. Says Graeme Wright, New Zealand-born editor of Wisden's Almanack,
the cricketer's bible: "There's a very fine line drawn between taking
money for being a player and taking money for something that might influence
the way the game is bet upon." He would like cricket to follow the path
of tennis and let players have more influence over how the game is run.
Former Australian batsman Dean Jones suggests a "base fee" for all international
teams and matching levels of pay. "Not everyone is corrupt, and not everyone
is involved," he says, having announced earlier that he was offered $50,000
by an Indian player in 1992 to make forecasts to a bookmaker. (Jones said
he was afraid to name the player because of suspected underworld connections.)
The amounts of money involved are staggering. In India, an estimated $500
million is wagered on cricket annually. Police suspect most betting and
match-fixing is under the control of Bombay's criminal underworld. Since
the advent of private TV in India in the late 1980s, sponsorship deals
for teams, matches and players have skyrocketed. Team appearance fees
for matches often exceed $500,000. Sachin Tendulkar, India's star batsman
and national hero is estimated to have an annual income of around $3 million.
Most of the money goes to the national boards that run the game, giving
rise to accusations of high-level corruption, especially kickbacks for
TV rights. More is spent on meetings and travel, critics say, than on
promoting cricket and schooling new players. In Colombo last week, armed
police were called in to keep the peace between rival factions during
voting for a new cricket board that will control the richest sport in
What next for the Gentleman's Game? When American baseball was torn by
a betting scandal 80 years ago, its leaders appointed a commissioner who
cleaned up the game and restored its reputation. Cricket's governing body,
the icc, has drawn up a set of rules and punishments covering players
and gambling. Wright says that's not enough. "There are too many bodies
with their own interests at heart, and the icc doesn't have the authority
to investigate or to hand down the sentences that might be necessary."
Some of the game's administrators take a more optimistic view. "Cricket
has an extraordinary way of reconstituting itself," says former England
captain and mcc committee member Ted Dexter. "There have been periods
in my lifetime when I really feared the worst. But the game has recovered."
Nobody can say how long that might take. Meanwhile, the stench of corruption
With reporting by Michael Fitzgerald/Sydney, Meenakshi Ganguly and
Maseeh Rahman/New Delhi, Kate Noble/London, Guy Hawthorne/Johannesburg,
Ghulam Hasnain/Karachi and Waruna Karunatilake/Colombo
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