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Overstepping the line

Fixing isn't only Pakistan's problem. India has also shielded tainted players. It remains to be seen if GenNext can change the rules of the game. Rajdeep Sardesai writes.

columns Updated: Mar 07, 2011 10:09 IST
Rajdeep Sardesai
Rajdeep Sardesai
Hindustan Times

Hypocrisy, like corruption, appears to be a subcontinental affliction. No one exemplifies this better than Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. In the wave of moral outrage following Pakistani cricket’s latest act of shame, Zardari has expressed his disgust at spot-fixing and promised to clean up the sport. That a man who is part of Pakistan’s problem now offers the solution is indicative of just why our neighbours are rapidly becoming the laughing stock of the global community.

Zardari, who is the chief patron of the Pakistan Cricket Board, has spent ten years in jail on various corruption charges and stands accused of embezzling $1.5 billion from government accounts and plotting the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto. Can such a man really offer any credible solution to corruption in cricket or be a role model for future Mohammad Asifs and Aamirs?

In a recent interview, former Pakistani captain Imran Khan aptly described the spot-fixing controversy as not a cricketing but a 'moral crisis'. Over the last few days, there has been a sense of wonderment over just why remarkably talented cricketers from Pakistan go astray so often. The answers do not lie on the cricket field, but beyond the boundary in a milieu where cutting corners — or 'jugaad' — is seen as a way of life. Just read the reports from Pakistan over how money meant for flood relief is being diverted to the private treasuries of government servants and local politicians and maybe one might understand just why deliberately bowling the odd no ball in a cricket match is considered par for the course.

But while lamenting the fate of Pakistan, let's stop adopting a holier-than-thou attitude in India. Spot-fixing or match-fixing is not Pakistan's problem alone. Sure, the cricketers and their 'agent' caught on tape are Pakistanis. But there's a strong possibility that the bookmakers masterminding the operation had Indian connections. Mumbai is as much a part of the global cricket betting syndicate as is Karachi and Johannesburg. As sport globalises, so does corruption, making national boundaries irrelevant. Yes, Pakistan ranks a lowly 139 in the transparency international's corruption index. But at number 84 we aren't winning any medals for honesty either.

There has also been a suggestion that Indian cricket is less prone to corruption because our players are more financially secure. It is true that an average Indian cricketer will earn more in one season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) than his Pakistani counterpart would earn in almost a decade. But is that reason enough to believe that a young Indian cricketer's riches will make him less vulnerable to temptation? If wealth alone would enhance the integrity quotient, then a vast majority of our netas and corporate barons should have been less inclined to engage in brazen acts of corruption. In fact, some of our wealthier politicians have often been known to illegally multiply their personal fortunes as they have greater access to resources to do so. It's just that they're too clever to get caught.

Moreover, it isn't as if Pakistan has been soft on its match-fixers in the past while India has taken a tough, uncompromising stand. If in Pakistan most of the match-fixing accused have got away, so have their Indian counterparts. The day the Congress decided to make Mohammed Azharuddin an MP, it was apparent that the establishment had quietly legitimised arguably the most disgraceful episode in Indian cricket. Other cricketers accused of fixing have gone on to become coaches and commentators, a sign of how quickly we tend to forget and forgive. A Hansie Cronje was shamed into confessing his guilt. In the subcontinent we have used lack of legal evidence as a smokescreen to avoid proper accountability.

If in the last decade Indian cricket has been spared the ignominy of fixing, it's only because we got plain lucky and not because of any deeper commitment to probity. In the aftermath of the original match-fixing controversy in the late 1990s, Indian cricket was blessed to have a group of fine men who made integrity their calling card. We have admired Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman as the 'golden generation' for their cricketing abilities. What we sometimes fail to appreciate is how their leadership helped restore pride in the India cap during a difficult period. The danger remains that as this generation passes the baton, will the vacuum be filled by men of equal conviction and commitment to the game? Or will the bright lights of being a millionaire at 21 prove much too dazzling for the conscience of Generation Next?

Morality, after all, is not born, it is nurtured. Strong leadership that commands respect is a key element in this process. If the Commonwealth Games have lost their sheen, it is because the organisers have failed to provide a moral compass to their team. Likewise, if the Delhi Metro, another gigantic government enterprise, has proved remarkably free of sleaze, it is because its chairman is a man who has zero tolerance for corruption.

Imran, under whose captaincy Pakistan remained free of the taint of fixing, has a story to tell on the value of leadership. In the 1989 Australasia Cup final in Sharjah, he heard that four of his players had agreed to fix a game. Imran called a team meeting and read out the riot act. The players were warned that not only would they never play for Pakistan, but would be sent to jail if they deliberately underperformed. The result, he says, was, "I don't think we've ever won a game as easily as we did that day!"

Post-script: Like Zardari, legendary Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad has also offered to help his country's cricket in its hour of crisis. Just a gentle reminder: Miandad's son had an 'arranged' marriage to mafia don Dawood Ibrahim's daughter. Good luck Pakistan!

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Sep 02, 2010 21:30 IST