Just as the calypso kings made their spectacular comeback in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, yet another scandal has hit the cricket pitch. A TV sting purportedly shows umpires agreeing to ‘spot fix’ matches, raising once again the concern that underperformance is not the only danger for cricket. The fact that no one in the International Cricket Council’s elite 12-member panel is involved is cold comfort really. While the security which was in place during the recently-concluded World Twenty20 focused on big games and names, the sting raises the fear that illegal bookies and crime syndicates can strike at any level, further damaging the credibility of cricket. Only one of the umpires shown as being involved is in ICC’s international panel but the operation throws up the possibility that corruption can take place at any level.
The exposé is nowhere as high-profile as those which invo-lved Pakistani players earlier and resulted in bans and jail terms. But it comes just a few months after the same channel ran a sting operation showing domestic Indian players agreeing to ‘spot fix’ in the Indian Premier League. With the focus on bookmakers and crime syndicates shifting from fixing games to tweaking aspects of it to evade detection, the authorities face a tough task. And limited-overs matches, especially in the T20 league, are vulnerable to fixing due to the number of twists and turns each game provides.
So where do we go from here? Former Pakistan skipper Imran Khan wants the players’ bank accounts to be monitored but that alone may not be enough. In the past, whether it was exposing match-fixing or the role of the late former South Africa skipper, Hansie Cronje, the police took the initiative. Such investigations also eventually led to a two-year ban for West Indies’ villain-turned-hero Marlon Samuels in 2008. The latest incident makes it imperative for the ICC to become more proactive. How closely is it monitoring the national boards in terms of taking preventive action? And are the national boards themselves keeping a close tab on players, especially their commercial interests? If the game is not played by the rules, there could come a time very soon when the most enthusiastic of fans could lose interest. That would be the death knell for cricket as we know it.