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Before you chuckle over Pak cricket

Yes. I know. The betting scandal involving three (or possibly more) Pakistan cricketers allows Indians a chance to feel very smug. For many of us, the cricket scandal is not just a sporting affair but a symbol of a neighbour in decay, of a nation in collapse, etc. etc. Vir Sanghvi writes.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2010 08:40 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times

Yes. I know. The betting scandal involving three (or possibly more) Pakistan cricketers allows Indians a chance to feel very smug. "Look at Pakistan," we say, "the place is falling apart. Millions have been uprooted by floods. There are fears that the money meant to reach these unfortunate flood victims has been diverted. Some of it (much of it, even) has been siphoned off by Pakistan's notoriously corrupt politicians."

And there is more in a similar vein: "The terrorists they armed and financed to attack India are now biting the hands that feed them. More people die in Pakistan each month from violent incidents than die in Iraq or Afghanistan."

So yes, I can see why Indians feel smug. For many of us, the cricket scandal is not just a sporting affair but a symbol of a neighbour in decay, of a nation in collapse, etc. etc.

Well sorry, guys, but I am afraid I don't share in the general smugness. Yes, Pakistan's politicians are even worse than ours (and that takes some doing) and as a nation, it is essentially a military dictatorship with intermittent outbreaks of democracy. But I am not going to sit and gloat about the terrorist attacks or pat myself on the back when millions of people struggle to reclaim their lives after a disaster of such mammoth proportions.

As for the cricket scandal, I don't believe that it is a symbol of Pakistan's moral decline any more than the thieving surrounding the organisation of next month's Commonwealth Games is a metaphor of some essential lack of integrity within Indian society.

Whenever there is money to be made, there will be crooks who will try and rob the system. That's a fact of life. Get used to it.

We need to look at previous betting scandals in global cricket. Hansie Cronje's inability to resist the temptations placed before him by the bookies did not reflect some failing in the South African character. It only marked one man's failure to hold firm when money was offered. The many Indian cricketers who have been tainted by their associations with bookies did not reflect some Indian propensity to cheat. They were just weak — and possibly immoral — men who succumbed to the lure of the easy buck.

But the Indian betting scandal is a good place to start because it tells us something about how such matters should be handled. Even the biggest cynic will concede that by and large, Indian cricket is free of match-fixing, deliberate no balls bowled at the behest of bookies etc.

Why should this be so?

Several reasons.

First of all, most if not all of the cricketers, who were implicated in our betting scandals saw their careers come to inglorious ends. I can't think of very many (or any, for that matter) who were fully rehabilitated within the cricket world or given India caps again. Even those who were subsequently exonerated by the courts had to wait so long for the judicial process to conclude that their careers were virtually over anyway.

Secondly, cricketers make so much money these days (from endorsements, appearance fees, etc. in addition to their cricket earnings) that the sums offered by bookies no longer seem so tempting. A player who is implicated in a betting scam will find that his career has ended and with that sudden termination will go the many crores he could have continued to make.

Thirdly, it now seems likely that they will be found out. One good thing about India's cricket administration is that it is now massively focused on match-fixing. Any pattern of suspicious behaviour is noticed immediately. Match tapes are studied by experts to check if players have deliberately thrown away their wickets, dropped catches, etc.

In the case of Pakistan, these three conditions are absent. I can understand why Pakistani cricketers do not make as much money as ours (we are the bigger economy) but even so, there is a case for paying them better.

More important is the laissez-faire attitude of the Pakistani board to match-fixing. Players who are accused of links with bookies and of rigging their performances are frequently forgiven, reinstated, or let off with temporary suspensions.

The current case is an example of how Pakistan gets it wrong. There was something tragic and deeply shameful about Pakistan's ambassador to Britain going on TV to stoutly defend the cricketers against whom such a strong prima facie case exists. Worse still, patriotism has suddenly become the last refuge of the cricketing scoundrel. Pakistani papers have blamed the incident on a conspiracy to defame Pakistan, of machinations by Indian bookies and even R&AW! (For the record, Mazher Mehmood, the News of the World journo who broke the story is a British Pakistani.)

If players believe they can get away with match-fixing, why on earth should they turn the bookies away?

But do not be fooled into believing that just because India watches its players more closely and is far less forgiving than Pakistan, Indian sport is therefore more honest.

All that has happened in India is that while the players have now been stopped from making illegal money, the sports administrators have got even more corrupt than ever before.

I've already mentioned the scandal of the highway robbery that has gone on in the name of the Commonwealth Games. But what of cricket administration? If even one-tenth of the charges that the cricket board has levelled against Lalit Modi are true then this is a far bigger corruption scandal than anything that any cricketer anywhere in the world has ever done.

And does anybody really believe that Modi did all this on his own? Most of us suspect that his colleagues on the board were, if not his partners in crime, then certainly fully aware that hundreds of crores were being siphoned out of the game.

So yes, the Indian cricket team is probably more honest than Pakistan's team. But Indian cricket is far less honest than Pakistani cricket. Only it is the administrators who are the crooks because, unlike the players, they have been placed under far less scrutiny (until now, at least).

Let's stop gloating about the Pakistan cricket scandal. I agree that the evidence seems compelling and I accept that some Pakistanis (administrators, government, media etc.) are behaving like idiots.

But the scandal does not tell us much about the state of the Pakistani nation. All it does is to remind that when modestly remunerated young men are placed in an environment where lakhs can be made off each ball by non-participants in the game, then the temptations placed before them can be irresistible. The only way to ensure honesty in such circumstances is to pay the players well and to then watch them like hawks.

That's what we've done, and so our cricketers play a straight game. But while they go out and bat for India, crores are still made off that game by non-participants: the cricket administrators.

You tell me: do we really have the right to be smug or to feel superior?

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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