Ethical Issues in the Gentleman’s Game: Guest Column by Ritesh Misra
Ethics is very important in all spheres of life and in cricket as well. So much so that in cricket there are worldwide rules to ensure the game is played with a sense of fairness. In fact, Cricket is one of the few sports where the Rules are described as ‘Laws‘ and this signifies how important uniformity and fairness is in cricket. The Marylebone Cricket Club still retains the copyright for ‘The Laws of Cricket‘ and even now , for any changes/amendments in law, the same is done in consultation by the ICC with the MCC.
Images: The 1774 Rules of Cricket and the MCC Laws of Cricket
If the beautiful game is not played with ethics in mind it loses its charm. One is always in doubt and is not sure as to whether the game has been played in the true spirit. Everyone including the paying spectators, the avid followers and the keen analysts feel betrayed and cheated. So do the vast majority of cricketers who have striven to play the game honestly and in its true spirit.
Yet, undeniably, the wonderful game of cricket has been tarnished very often by attempts to besmirch it with the dark and gloomy spectre of fixing. On their part, again and again the administrators have tried to revive it and restore it to its pristine glory.
This piece of writing seeks to have a look at some aspects of ethical issues and fixing in cricket. I propose to have a look at the Indian Premier League ( Referred to as IPL from hereon), its 10th edition and a brief history of controversies during IPL history. I will also briefly look at other instances of fixing in cricket and I will end with an attempt to understand why fixing takes place and how it can be minimized or preferably done away with. While the same frankly seems impossible, this too will be discussed. Finally I will end up a few recommendations which I feel are required and will help the game.
The current edition of IPL is the IPL 10 and it has been a major success. Venue after venue saw packed crowds. Tickets were promptly sold out and the so called important people were continuously flooded with requests for passes. This was for almost all matches and for matches representing some teams with star players such as Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Chris Gayle, to take a few names, the demand for tickets/passes reached Everest heights. Not only did the IPL appear to have retained spectator interest, it also appeared to have attracted new fans as well. Along with its heady cocktail of glamour, it appeared to have set the ball rolling for the next edition of IPL – The IPL 11 where all players would go in for fresh round of bidding.
Images: MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli
Now along with the success, the IPL 10 also appeared to have remained clean from any major allegations as well, such as match fixing or spot fixing. Suddenly, from out of the blue, there was controversy with arrest of 3 suspected bookies in Kanpur after the Gujarat Lions(GL) and Delhi Daredevils (DD) match which was held there. Worryingly- for the organisers and those who hold that IPL is purer than snow, police said that two GL Players were named by the bookies. More than 40 lakhs cash and 5 cell phones was also seized from the bookies. There were 2 whatsapp messages which were noted that two GL players had been “set” and will “do as asked”, and that GL will lose the match even if they will score more than 200 runs.
Now what happened ? Did GL score more than 200. No, they did not. Did they lose, Yes they did. Well, GL scored 195 and lost by 2 wickets after Shreyas Iyer scored 96 to help DD win with 2 balls to spare.
Now this could be coincidence, but maybe it could be something more as well. Spare a thought for Sheyas Iyer as well, as for no fault of his , his 96 may not get unstinted appreciation of 100% of the followers/fans, with a few doubting it and linking it to the whatsapp messages which would tend to suggest that that things would be tried to be made easier for the Delhi Daredevils Batsman.
It is not that only the current edition of the IPL has run into this controversy. Rather, far from it, the IPL has been no stranger to controversy which has followed at its footsteps very consistently year after year.
Lets quickly run through them and discuss a few potential problem areas as well.
The biggest controversy and setback the IPL faced was in 2015 when it was announced that 2 teams, the Chennai Super Kings ( CSK) and the Rajasthan Royals ( RR) would be suspended for 2 years following match fixing and betting scandal. This was since the owners of CSK, Mr Gurunath Meiyappan ( called an official by CSK) and of RR, Mr Raj Kundra had in the words of the Probe Panel, “brought disrepute to cricket, the BCCI and the IPL to such an extent that the public doubts the game is clean or not”. Prior to this, in 2013 , the Delhi Police had arrested 3 cricketers, namely Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan on charges of spot fixing. In a separate police case, the Mumbai Police had arrested Meiyappan and a filmstar Vindoo Dara Singh on allegations of betting and having links with bookies, passing on information to them and other similar charges.
Of course, before that too there were major controversies like the suspension of IPL Chairman Lalit Modi in 2010 who later even left the country- and till date has not returned.
In 2012 too there was a TV sting by the channel India TV which accused 5 “uncapped” players for match fixing. These players were TP Sudheendra of the Deccan Chargers, Mohnish Mishra of Pune Warriors, Amith Yadav and Shalabh Shrivastava of the Kings XI Punjab and Abhinav Bali of Delhi Daredevils . Crucially one has to note that the 5 players are from 4 different teams. This shows that the malaise is not limited to one team or one owner but is a problem of the system.
What did the IPL Do ? It promptly suspended the 5 players . Was it enough ?
Let us for a moment digress and distinguish between match-fixing and spot-fixing. As is obvious from the term itself, match-fixing is an attempt to determine in advance the outcome of a match. However in a team game this is fraught with uncertainty. As Robert Burns in his ‘To a Mouse‘ says. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and no matter how carefully the project has been planned, something may still go wrong with it“. To more or less ensure match fixing as many as a minimum of 6-7 players of a team have to be taken on board. This is difficult, if not impossible. Also, secrecy is a concern. There is also the risk of a brilliant individual performance which will make the entire project go for a toss.
With millions at stake, and almost certainly disreputable and notorious persons at the helm of affairs who will not hesitate to, if required even take lives, an innovative tweaking was required- and this led to the origin of Spot-fixing.
Now spot-fixing, as distinct from match fixing is much simpler. Unlike the risk of assuring the outcome of a match, necessitating the involvement of several players, spot-fixing involves fixing a spot. It could be something like how many runs will be scored in a particular over, or whether no ball or wides will be bowled, or whether a batsman will be out run out. It could be virtually anything which could catch the imagination of the betters. There could even be non cricket events such as decisions, as for example decision to be taken on winning the toss, or the bowling changes to be made or the batting order to be followed.
Now, this makes things much easier for the spot-fixer. There is no need to have uncertainties in the “system” . Success can virtually be ensured by compromising a couple of players , and sometimes by compromising only one itself. If the captain is somehow involved then its celebration time since the captain is the most important person in the game of cricket.
This indeed had happened in 2010 when spot-fixing was first known about when Pakistan Captain Salman Butt was caught along with star fast bowlers Mohd Asif and Mohd Amir. The latter were found deliberately bowling no-balls. In the anxiety to ensure that their part of the “deal” is met, the no ball bowled was so huge that it aroused suspicion. A sports agent Mazhar Majeed was secretly videotaped by reporters from “News of the world” and he had informed the reporters that the two fast bowlers would deliberately bowl no-balls at specific times and the information could be used for spot-fixing. Indeed they did, and as stated earlier the no ball was huge, at least half a metre over the line, and as predicted the last ball of the over too was a no-ball. Investigations finally led to suspension from International cricket for 10, 7 and 5 years respectively for Butt, Asif and Amir. The 3 cricketers were also jailed for 30, 12 and 6 months respectively. Butt being the captain , it was much easier for him to influence his players.
Images: Mohd. Asif and Mohd. Amir
This was also seen earlier when match fixing controversy was at its peak and International cricket playing captain of South Africa Hansie Cronje confessed to match fixing and also named Indian Captain Mohd Azharuddin for being heavily involved.
Images: Mohd. Azharuddin and Hansie Cronje
The obvious conclusion from this is that the captain’s job is the most sensitive and whatever he does will be subject to intense scrutiny. Therefore, not only should selection of captain be done with utmost carefulness, once selected/chosen as captain , he should maintain himself with dignity, as he has a responsibility to carry out, for his country, his team , and to himself and the sport itself.
Positive moves over the years
The administrators have taken lot of positive moves over the years. Let us have a look at a few of them.
Frequent tours to controversial venues like Sharjah, Toronto and Singapore have been reduced quite drastically. While I have nothing against these venues, the fact remains that such ‘holiday‘ destinations offer more scope for dubious bookie or bookie like persons to approach the players. It is also quite likely that in such non regular cricket venues may be slightly off guard and especially for the younger players one minute of letting down of guard may be enough to put their entire life in jeopardy.
One more positive move which was in IPL was to remove the ban on uncapped players not being part of the auction pool. This was a very essential move as potentially an uncapped player may be very important and a great buy with various teams trying for him. Yet, as per the rules, there could not be bidding for him and he would get a predetermined fees like all other uncapped players. This meant two risks, and both are very dangerous. First is that a player will be paid extra money by the Franchisee. This in fact was the allegation against Ajit Chandila that apart from his regular fees as an uncapped player he was getting more money unofficially. The second risk is that an uncapped player to bring him into the auction pool will be aggressively promoted and pushed for selection to the National team so that he no longer remains an uncapped player. This would mean that selectors and other important people too would be approached by bookies and other disreputable persons.
Removal of the IPL ‘after party‘ was a good decision too as such parties provided an opportunity for various unscrupulous elements to approach the players during the parties. There was also the risk of younger players being swayed away by the glamour aspect of such events, distracting them from their main job of playing cricket.
Can Spot-Fixing be eliminated
In my frank opinion, No. This is because, as stated earlier in this write up, it does not need involvement of large number of players but only of a few. Further, it is extremely difficult to know, with cricket being a glorious game of uncertainties, which are regular cricketing events and which are pre-determined ones. There is undoubtedly big money in betting and as long as humans feel the need to beat the system, such attempts will continue. It is also pertinent that the “signals” of the on field player to indicate that the fix will be made can be as varied as bowling with sunglasses on, or wearing the watch on right hand or seemingly absentmindedly twisting and turning wrist bands or any such seemingly innocuous gestures. How is one to know whether these are genuine or fake. It is just impossible. There is huge money in fixing, and as long as people will be in love for big money, which will be forever, there will always be people who will seek to be involved in such unscrupulous activity.
Should betting be legalised
Well, this is certainly a food for thought, considering that betting and gambling is well above a 30 billion dollar activity throughout the world and legal betting in UK alone supports more than 100,000 Jobs. However in India, generally there is opposition to making it legal, even though possibly thousands of crores of rupees could shift from the black economy to the white economy. However, it is upto the policy makers to take a call on this matter and it definitely an appropriate decision will certainly be taken by the Government on this issue.
Strategic time out is certainly not required in my view. Test matches have fixed periods of play of two hours each, and a drinks interval after an hour, and lunch and tea breaks after two hours each. ODI’s have a couple of drinks breaks and a lunch interval after one innings is over. Why then are strategic time-outs required in the T20 matches of IPL. Advertisement revenue surely can’t overtake more serious considerations like giving time to bookies to redraw their strategies, take bets etc . From the cricketing point of view too, it disrupts momentum. Far too often we have seen that the team doing well loses steam after the strategic timeout and loses its way. While this could definitely be genuine, it unnecessarily raises suspicion.
Selection Committee Meetings are obviously secret and should remain so but after the team is announced there should be a press conference where the Chairman of the selectors addresses the press and outlines the reasons for selection of the players. As it is most of the players in the team select themselves and only one or two spots require discussion and decision. So it makes sense to tell the broad reasons for the same. The new selection committee of India headed by MSK Prasad is doing this which is a healthy practice and should be continued.
Selection of players should be on the basis of first-class performances and not on the basis of IPL. Here too, the current selection committee is doing that which is a good practice.
BCCI can consider increasing the salary of Ranji Trophy cricketers so that young cricketers will be motivated to play 1st class cricket. After all, not all go on to play International cricket and have a big IPL Contract. Ranji players , if paid more , will certainly help the cause of cricket in India . Harbhajan Singh has taken this cause up and said that he himself came to know about this only in last 3-4 years after being out of the national team. BCCI should consider this seriously.
It is understood that there are regular lectures, discussions and awareness training programmes conducted for cricketers where they are told about important do’s and dont’s. This is extremely important and should continue on a regular basis.
Strict action should be taken on cricketers involved in match fixing or spot fixing, No one should be spared irrespective of their stature and past performances etc. Then only future cricketers will be cautious not to get involved in this nefarious activity.
To conclude, Cricket is a gentleman’s game. Let us strive to ensure it remains so. All stakeholders should introspect on this important issue of ethical issues and come out with worthwhile suggestions on how to take the noble game forward.
The writer is an IRS Officer posted in Mumbai. The views expressed are personal. He is interested in sports in general, and particularly cricket and tennis. He blogs at thesportsmanwritesaway.wordpress.com
This article was originally published in the Liberal Studies Journal of the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU) in August 2017.