Sports need to be clean or else they are hardly worth bothering about, writes Peter Roebuck

Revelations that an Australian player was approached by bookies during the Ashes series confirm that match fixing is once again darkening the game. Sports need to be clean or else they are hardly worth bothering about. All the more reason to demand stringent scrutiny and severe penalties.

Inevitably cricket has been caught up in the prevailing greed game. Television money has poured into mainstream sport. Although old school gentlemen like to imagine otherwise, cricket is played by men and women of all sorts. Money is blamed for the corruption but it’s a smokescreen. No one forces a player to take the dirty shilling. The fault lies with the people.

Players make millions but it is never enough. Rich folk are like alcoholics. Always there is a better car to buy or drugs to take. It is dreadful but fashionable. One day man will realise the joy of simplicity, the tasty curry, good company, lassis on the seafront. Until then, until happiness is understood, governments will continue to steal from citizens and sportsmen will continue to take bribes.

Holiest of the holies

Approaching an Australian cricketer during the Lord’s Test gave a clear indication that the match fixers are back in business. As far as cricket is concerned an Ashes Test at St Johns Wood is the holiest of holies. The man who behaves badly at ‘Headquarters’ knows no shame. Not that the bookie was necessarily seeking to influence the course of that match.

Presumably it was a serious contact and not some drunken big noter trying to impress. It is a reasonable assumption. Top cricketers are given instructions about corruption and have been around long enough to tell the genuine from the fake. Moreover it is no small thing to make a report. Inevitably the story emerges and the player’s name is dragged into it and never mind that he is an innocent party.

Cricket needs to be on guard. Match fixing is always hard to detect precisely because it does not require matches to be fixed. People bet on tosses, batting orders, twelfth men, wides, individuals scores, the number of runs taken off a particular over and so forth.

Scrapping the surface

All of these things can be arranged, have been arranged. The previous investigations merely scraped the surface. Only the profligate and unlucky were detected. If nothing else that expose demonstrated the willingness of international captains to put their snouts in the trough.

Reports suggest that the IPL competition in South Africa was tarnished. I know nothing of that. Certainly the organiser’s refusal to incorporate the Governing body’s anti-corruption unit did nothing to reassure observers. Lalit Modi said the price tag was too high, a position he needs to review. But it is wrong to leap to conclusions. Moreover cricket has many fine, honest men who ought not to be tarnished with anything untoward. They are entitled to their clean skins.

However it is clear that ICL was blighted by corruption. To their credit officials looked into it and banished the worst offenders. The majority of ICL players were shocked by the discovery of cynical conduct and ostracised the culprits. Match fixing is insidious.

Afterwards former Test cricketers of vast experience realised they had unknowingly taken part in fixed matches. One said that he just thought his side was inconsistent. Others suddenly saw puzzling events in a different light - the economical over, the inexplicable collapse,

Cricket was right to take the poisoned apple seriously, and to ponder its implications. A game only has its reputation. And it can be ruined by those who rode on its back towards the false god of flaunted wealth.

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