Twenty20 is great fun but it needs discipline

Whatever else is revealed, hinted at, confessed to or given in evidence it is important that the Indian Premier League remains firm as a rock in the next few months while the spot-fixing charges are investigated.

Unpleasant stories

Beyond doubt some unpleasant stories will emerge in the coming days. So many arrests, so much beyond doubt, so many fleeing the country all point to a conspiracy larger than any in cricket recently.

What is really wrong is that cricket had such a good reputation before the outbreak of the nastiness that began when Hansie Cronje was revealed as a crook.

We all believed that cricket was clean even if boxing might be controlled by the Mafia, footballers were liable to accept bribes and even if athletes seeking records could be tempted to add performance-enhancing drugs to their diet.

No one thought until the Delhi police caught up with Cronje and the whole nasty business unravelled in front of our eyes that cricketers were capable of such criminal behaviour.

Now we hardly turn our heads when we hear the county cricket has its fixers, that there have been attempts to fix Test cricket, that ICC has an organisation to stop this evil and that many a One-Day International has been interfered with over the years.

So what went wrong? Why did a game noted for its good behaviour turn bad? Where in the name of sanity do we go from here?

The root of evil

Money, so the song tells us, is the root of all evil and I am afraid that is true in cricket just as in every other part of life.

Lesser cricketers were tempted by easy money — to give team news, to predict pitch and weather conditions and then to bowl a no-ball or a wide on demand. What harm could it do, they asked themselves. One foolish overseas player actually phoned his bet — many years ago now — from the dressing room in front of his team-mates. It did not seem to matter to him that he was betting on his own team to lose.

When Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh took advantage of generous odds of 500-1 England to beat Australia — which is exactly what happened — they were just betting. I know both of them.

They would no more deliberately lose a match than attempt to fly. In those days — the high summer of 1981 — we all had a laugh. Now we might dial the police number. It has happened too often.

The IPL administrators must recognise the seriousness of the accusations floating around their heads but they must also stay calm.

The traditionalists will try to undermine the 20-over game, suggest that it is riddled with corruption, even try to persuade ICC to withdraw all recognition.

They want the steady tread of the Test match, played out over five days, a healthy first-class game and the season to end with a couple of festival matches.

I know that in my country there are many fans who dream of a return to that world when bribes were unheard of, when amateur captains were the only disciplinary force needed to keep the younger players in check and when overseas players did not exist.

Those days have gone and been replaced by a highly commercial, sponsor-driven, televised professional sport.

If IPL wants to maintain its game it must set up systems to see that the crooks are kept out and that players are never tempted.

Twenty20 is great fun but it needs discipline and IPL now has the opportunity to put in place men who will have as a first priority an intention to keep the game clean.