The world of cricket faces a formidable challenge after a television channel's sting operation has brought the corrosive effect betting can have on the game and its players back into sharp focus. The Board of Control for Cricket in India should be commended for swiftly suspending the five cricketers involved from all forms of the game till a committee headed by Ravi Sawani, the former International Cricket Council anti-corruption unit chief, submits the findings of a preliminary report within 15 days. Whatever his findings, the fear is that the latest allegations are the tip of the iceberg. Cricket shed its heart-warming amateur spirit long ago and not many call it a ‘gentleman's game' these days. The Indian Premier League is cash-rich and this means the stakes are high not just for the broadcaster, the franchises and the cricketers but also for the betting syndicates. The Twenty20 format, too, is especially vulnerable to fixing. Since this form of the game is so compressed in nature, a couple of deliveries or a single over could influence the eventual outcome of a match. Here, spot fixing, even a single deliberate no-ball, can alter the result. Under the circumstances, the allegation that one of the cricketers demanded Rs.10 lakh from an undercover television reporter for sending down a deliberate no-ball in an IPL match is extremely disturbing. Are there loopholes in the system and is it possible for a cricketer to pull off this illegal act in an IPL match? The IPL — after initial reluctance — now has ICC's anti-corruption unit overseeing its matches, but are the mechanisms in place fool proof?
The cricketers allegedly trapped by India TV's sting operation might not be big-time players but we should not allow the smallness of the names to cloud the enormity of the issue. Ever since Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May alleged that the then Pakistan captain, Salim Malik, approached them to fix an international game in 1994, some marquee cricketers have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. In 2000, Hansie Cronje of South Africa admitted to match-fixing and the subsequent scandal saw some Indian stars, including its skipper at the time, being banned from the game. And the News of the World sting saw Salman Butt, who was Pakistan's captain at the time, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir being convicted and jailed for spot fixing in 2011. Money brings with it greed and cricket needs to be very careful to preserve its soul. Otherwise the game — in the eyes of a cynical public — could well end up like one of those wrestling tournaments where the protagonists play-act and the outcome is fixed.