Falling out of love

Gleanings from a weekend spent reading corruption-related content on various newsmagazines and sites:

A beleaguered people seethed at the betrayal, at the battering of their hope, at their realisation that cricket, as every sport, can at best only be a metaphor for the nation playing it. Pakistan, today, is cricket’s graveyard, its players the hangmen of the game. But they have acquired such disrepute, such infamy, only because so many of Pakistan’s cherished values lie crushed, because its politics has become pathological.

People understood this instinctively and, for a change, reacted spontaneously, refusing to spin conspiracy theories. In Lahore, an angry mob pelted rotten tomatoes on donkeys named Asif, Aamer, Kamran (Akmal) and Salman. One of them said, “We are already facing so many problems…they took away our one source of joy.” One Wajahat commented on Facebook, “In 1999 you (the Pakistani cricket team) broke my heart. But I was 16, and I learnt to love you again. I fear I am too old to love you again.” A sarcastic SMS doing the rounds reads, “We, the flood-stricken people of Pakistan, salute the worthy members of our national cricket team for their daring move to collect huge donations for the flood victims, even through match-fixing.” Newspapers howled, TV channels bristled and commentators said cricket’s hangmen must be made to pay.

Outlook’s story underlines the essential tragedy of the latest developments: that the greed of the few irreparably harms the many. ‘I fear I am too old to love you again’ ranks, on the poignance scale, with ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe!’

The magazine also features Dawn correspondent Kamran Shafi on the need to root out the present administration and reformat the running of Pakistan cricket; what he says serves as a cautionary tale for an IPL, and an administration, obsessed with la dolce vita [And while on cautionary tales, here's Rohit Mahajan, also in Outlook, on why India is not inoculated against this evil]:

There is only one way for Pakistan cricket to go, and that is to dismiss the whole shoot: PCB, team and all. Our players should be banned from playing any international cricket for five years during which time cricket academies should be set up at the district level which should train players and form two teams each. These teams should then play each other with the winners playing the winning teams from other districts. At the national level, matches could be held between provincial teams and from this pool of talent, a national side chosen.

The PCB’s secretariat (yes, they have a plush secretariat too, including executive dining and living facilities and accommodations that would shame a seven-star hotel) ought to be cut down to half its huge size and proper accounting procedures instituted. The royal style—fat salaries, first-class travel, five-star hotels, daily allowances that would put even a prince’s privy purse to shame—that the PCB bosses arrogate to themselves should be controlled and the money, thus wasted, spent on the cricket academies.

Within the fraternity of journalists covering cricket, a talking point for quite some time is the increasing power and pervasive influence of the agent, who in recent times has been known to go outside of the stated brief of managing the player-client’s finances, and intervene in cricketing aspects up to and including selection of players. Mahajan’s piece elaborates on that theme:

Insiders say that agents chasing players, and trying to build relationships with officials, is a serious problem. “This is rampant in domestic cricket,” says a source. “In Delhi, for instance, some officials are long-time betters and have links with bookies. In some states, selectors receive a cut from agents for selecting their players.” The source says that at the national level, agents have become less important due to a BCCI decision—paid selectors. “Earlier, agents used to be seen taking selectors to dinner etc, and it was believed they influenced selection,” he says. “Now at least in public they don’t hang out together.”

Agents and the access they have to the players, or the access they facilitate for others, could also cause problems. The ICC suggests no or limited access to players during matches, but agents and their friends are always with players. During the Asia Cup earlier this year, the Sri Lankan chief of security wrote to the acu that a woman had gained access to an Indian player’s room. “The situation was managed, but it’s a potentially hazardous, in which a woman could be used to lure a player towards wrongdoing,” says a source.

A senior BCCI official says it’s time there was some regulation of the agents: “There are some good ones, but one or two are known to be of dubious integrity, misleading players about deals, attempting to influence selection. It might be a good idea to register agents, like in football and nba, so that there could be a thorough check of their antecedents.”

And in his piece, Mike Marqusee tangentially underlines the reason behind the growing power of the agent:

One of the sad but striking parts of the News of the World recording shows the way the agent-cum-fixer Mazhar Majeed treats the young cricketers—as inferior social beings dependent on his largesse. And they seem to accept him as such. After all, he has the money and the connections, just like all the others they have been told to obey and admire.

India Today has a story that hits the right spots with its toxic mix of corrupt cricketers, the fix, and the underworld — but speaking for myself, I am not entirely convinced by this one. For something on this scale to have happened — and remember, the Rs 50 crore cited here is not the sum total of the bets, merely the extent of losses suffered — I have to believe that such astronomical sums were wagered on the possibility of only two no-balls being bowled in course of an innings. Stretches credulity, that — fix or no, there is no bowling side in the world that can guarantee to bowl only a specific number of no balls in course of an innings; the no-ball [the non-fixed ones, that is] is an involuntary, heat of the moment act, mostly caused by a temporary blip in the bowler’s circuitry. You can as a bowler/bowling team guarantee to bowl one on demand; the converse, that you can guarantee not to bowl one, is a bridge too far for me to contemplate crossing.

To understand a crime, you have to understand context — and when it comes to Pakistan cricket, there are few that can explain context better than Osman Samiuddin. Two pieces of his that I read over the weekend provided context and backstory — from The Guardian and The Times of India.

Along with context, there is this: the past is always prologue, in cricket as in life. Gideon Haigh delves into the past, to provide a lesson for the present:

To cricket’s antique traditions, we must turn for a parallel crisis. Because, for much of its early history, from its rise in the Restoration to deep into the Regency, cricket and gambling were inseparable associates. The nobility and gentry who fostered the game understood about the game what the match- and spot-fixers do now – that in a gaming sense it is a target-rich environment, full of possibilities for wagers.

The oldest surviving version of cricket’s laws features extensive provision for the settling of bets.

Cricket also grew rich in potential for malpractice – to the point of almost causing its own downfall.

As one repentant player explained: ”Matches were bought and matches were sold, and gentlemen who meant honestly lost large sums of money, till the rogues beat themselves at last. They over-did it; they spoilt their own trade …”

What ended up saving cricket was that it became so obviously corrupt as to endanger its increasingly lucrative trade as a spectator sport, which was enough to scare its practitioners and impresarios straight.

That’s the view from the world at large; me, I am content — no, not content, more like resigned — to allow this drama to play itself out under the aegis of the ICC; to wait for a determination of guilt and innocence and all shades in-between. As Haigh said in his piece:

Cricket has in its hands the instruments of its own deliverance. The question is whether it has the courage to use them.

PS: I’m off, starting tomorrow, for an off-site that will take up the rest of the week. Expect blogging to be desultory to non-existent, for the duration.

18 thoughts on “Falling out of love

  1. I don’t think Sanjay has any special analysis talent that others don’t. Do you think the opposition doesn’t know all this or the players themselves. With so much video footage,

  2. This also exposes the sheer incompetence of sports journalists covering the game today. They are only useful for writing puff pieces and begging for interviews from the players. Not a single one dared to investigate the corruption in the sport for fear of their livelihoods being compromised. Is it possible that no cricket journalist ever had any idea of this? How was it that it took a tabloid to expose this?

  3. Came across this short piece by Rahul Bhatia : http://www.openthemagazine.com/shorts/smallworld/2010-09-11#2

    I had similar feelings too. Why does he have to lie through his teeth? In 2000, didn’t he accuse Azhar of “not completely supporting him”? Atleast, he could have refused to answer the question (like http://cricket.rediff.com/report/2009/nov/13/dark-chapter-of-match-fixing-should-remain-closed-sachin.htm). Perhaps, he thinks the rest of the world slept through the first fixing saga.

    • *IMO* SRT has every right to remain silent and issue diplomatic answers in this issue. Why he has get himself into this controversy? Sorry ..It ‘s not his job .If press wants some quotes to get more eyeballs they should check with the people who run the cricket in India.

      SRT is such a great player even in this age is because what he is …he thinks about his game all the time and score runs. As cricket fans we would like to see SRT score few more centuries and win matches than getting involved these stupid controversy.

  4. I don’t think Sanjay has any special analysis talent that others don’t. Do you think the opposition doesn’t know all this or the players themselves. With so much video footage, I don’t think there are any secrets, at least as far as batting style and its associated flaws.

    • Agree about the videos footage and every team has it’s own research methods but what is the need for our experts to feed them with free supply.

      I was following few blogs supporting their countries during the recent Soccer WC .It was like a war…blogs of information with stratgies and weekenss of the opponents. After WC, few players appeared on those blog and thanked their supporters. Has it happened in Indian cricket? Previously Journalists/commentators used to be the best source of inputs to the captain or to the struggling players. Where are we now?

  5. Prem,

    In Cricinfo Sanjay did analysis of some of Indian young talents. Its a good stuff …but why to publish the analysis to the whole world rather than convey that to the individual players. Also not seen any of these experts doing batting or bowling analysis of foreign players. Even the foreign experts do not comment on the technique of their players to outside. Loud mouth like GC who understands the batting technique so beautifully not commented once on any Australian batsmen. Not able to understand the reasons Indians giving their secrets so easily for the opponents to manipulate.

    .Any thoughts on this?

  6. nobody seems to care very much for the poor donkeys that were pelted with all sorts of rubbish in pakistan even though they had nothing to do with anything at all.

  7. As they say the more things change the more they remain the same! It’s probably a fool’s errand to expect that this time there will be a thorough clean up and steps taken to minimize if not eliminate the unholy nexus at work here. But, hope springs eternal.

  8. Bottom line, nothing is what it appears to be:(

    This being the new paradigm/ People will learn to coexist with this too. And another level of match fixing will soon start taking place now!

  9. How about Sehwag getting out on 99 in the test match. Wild heave for 6 and getting stumped. Nobody will suspect that thinking it is his natural game. There you go :-)

  10. Pingback: All is full of love – Plaid Remix | Plaid Comforter

  11. Prem, as u pointed out in an earlier post, everything seems shady after such revelations…i am wondering about Randiv’s no-ball now…

    • Thats being paranoid. Which bookie could have predicted that Sehwag will be exactly 99* when India needed 1 run to win the match? I dont think even Sehwag could have deliberately made it happen that way (just for fun, not money).

  12. In a sense, it is a relief that a mess of this magnitude was caught – atleast brings perspective to the game! If this event cannot cause a major upheaval in the administration and doesnt help in kicking out unnecessary folks out of the circuit, I don’t know what will!

  13. The thing is even if we (aam aadmi fans) stop watching cricket, it won’t matter a hoot to our cricket administrators. Cricket administrators in India are in their positions not because they love cricket but because they love things more mundane (money, power etc.). So, if we fans move our allegiance to, say, football, the administrators will start crowding football association and start milking that as well. In fact, Pawar already has his man well placed in football association. So, it matter least to him whether cricket retains its popularity or not.

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