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April 7, 2000


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Dalmiya waffles while cricket burns

Prem Panicker

Ever since the match-fixing scandal broke on Friday afternoon, I've been sitting here waiting for the one person, the one body, who could make a difference, to come up with a statement.

That person is Jagmohan Dalmiya, that body is the International Cricket Council.

Patience -- mine, that is -- has been finally rewarded. Though not quite the way I had hoped.

Here is what Jagmohan Dalmiya, chairman of the ICC, has to say about easily the biggest controversy that has ever rocked world cricket (and yes, the Cronje affair has to rank as the sport's biggest scandal, because for the first time, we have a police case, and tangible evidence, as opposed to the hot air that has fuelled previous allegations):

"I have no knowledge of the charges registered by the Delhi police, I will look into the matter if there is substance in it," runs his statement.

If we accept that he really has no knowledge of the issue, then he is probably the only person of any stature, anywhere in the country, who does not have access to radio, television, newspapers and the internet -- because all of these media have been full of nothing else these last few hours.

"I cannot say anything on hearsay. I cannot announce on hypothetical basis," Dalmiya said.

Hearsay? Hypothesis? We are talking, here, of the police of a country -- his country -- announcing the filing of criminal conspiracy charges against the captain of the national team of another country.

Hypothesis? Hearsay? Is this man for really real?

"The ICC has its own machinery which will take its course," Dalmiya adds. "If there is any grey side to it, we will take care. We have our own way of working. We will cross the bridge when we come to it. There is nothing to worry.''

So now I -- and you -- have heard everything.

First, what is this ICC machinery he is talking about? It is the nine-member commission the ICC instituted to enquire "fully and comprehensively" into all allegations of betting and match-fixing in all the member nations, under the leadership of Lord Griffith. The committee, you will recall, was instituted with a lot of hype, hoopla and brave words after the earlier scandal, involving those two highest paid weathermen and geological experts in the world -- Shane Warne, and Mark Waugh, to give them names -- admitted they had taken oodles of dollars from an Indian bookie for providing information about the pitch and the weather conditions (speaking of which, you know anyone else who is paid hundreds of dollars to look out the window and say the sun is shining brightly?)

And what has this machinery done between the time of its inception, last year, and now? Zip. Nothing. Nada. So we know what course the machinery will take.

"If there is a grey side to it, we will take care" -- a sentence which means precisely nothing.

"We have our own way of working" -- right, and if you think back over the way the ICC has handled every controversy that has ever come up in cricket, you will know what that is. Ball tampering was a huge issue a few years back. The ICC did nothing. Chucking became a huge controversy more recently. The ICC -- driven directly by Dalmiya -- reacted by taking away the powers of its own chucking committee. Bribery, betting, and match fixing became another issue. The ICC reacted by appointing a committee -- which did, and does, nothing.

"We will cross the bridge when we come to it," the venerable chairman of the ICC says. It apparently has not occured to him that the game came to the bridge quite a few years ago. It was reached on November 30, 1980, when Asif Iqbal's declaring of the Pakistan innings, in the sixth and final Test of that year's series against India, at the exact score India had made in its first innings, was alleged to have been because there was heavy betting on whether or no Pakistan would cross India's score. It was reached on November 4, 1987, when according to Sarfaraz Nawaz, Javed Miandad deliberately below par in the semifinals of the Reliance World Cup. In 1994, when according to Manoj Prabhakar, a colleague offered him a huge bribe to play below par in the Singer World Series in Sri Lanka. In September 1994, when Tim May and Shane Warne alleged that Salim Malik, then captain of Pakistan, had attempted to bribe them. In October 1994, when Manoj Prabhakar and Nayan Mongia were accused of deliberate slow batting in the ODI in Kanpur, and dropped for "disciplinary reasons". In early 1995, when Pakistan went down in sensational fashion to Zimbabwe, and Rashid Latif and Basit Ali walked out of the team alleging largescale match-fixing. In....

Why bother? The bridge, in sum, has been reached, and ignored, for the last 2 decades.

"There is nothing to worry," is his final, reassuring statement.

Now, why do I find myself so spectacularly unreassured?

Because in that final statement, is all the clue I -- and you -- need to understand that things are only going to get worse, not better.

Why is Dalmiya's unconcern such a big issue? The answer, if you stop to think about it, is simple, really.

That there have been numerous allegations of wholesale match-fixing is a given, right? Right. How have they been handled? By letting the culprits run their own investigation. I mean, Prabhakar comes up with an allegation, and the BCCI investigates. Rashid Latif accuses, the PCB investigates. Warne and Waugh admit to taking money, and action is left to the ACB. Which is a bit like asking my doting mother to sit in judgement on a case in which I have been accused of murder.

There was only one way to handle this. To clean up cricket once for all. To remove the stigma from the game, to reassure the fans, and to ensure that they didn't go away from the stadia in droves (and no, I am not over-reacting -- already, I've had five different emails from people saying this is the final straw, they are not going to watch cricket ever again).

And that way was for the ICC to take charge. To put into motion a global clean up operation.

How? By launching an investigation chaired by an independent authority of unimpeachable credentials. Powered by the Interpol, working in tandem with the police in each of the nine Test-playing countries. An honest, open, sweeping, far-ranging investigation aimed at answering two questions: First, is there betting, match-fixing and bribery in modern cricket and two, if the answer to that is yes, then who are the players involved?

If names did emerge, the ICC then had to ensure salutary punishment. At its level, a complete, total, lifetime ban from playing the game at any level. And at the level of the country to which that particular player belonged, massive, crippling fines and a stiff jail sentence.

Had this been done, any time these last 20 years, it would have accomplished two purposes. One, it would have cleaned up the game till that point in time. And two, the firmness of the action would have served as a warning to potential future transgressors that the fixing game was just not worth the candle -- a warning that would have been reinforced by the ICC stating that from that point on, all future matches would be under close scrutiny by law enforcement authorities.

Had the ICC shown the will to act, cricket today would be once again a game we could all enjoy.

But the ICC didn't have the will to act.

So, ever since match-fixing became a buzz word, we the fans have stopped enjoying a game of cricket as it is played on the field. Today, our energies are not spent watching the game, but wondering how much batsman x was played to bat so badly, or how much bowler y pocketed to bowl short and wide and consistently outside off stump.

Today, the ICC still does not have the will to act.

It does, however, have a chairman who tells us all not to worry.

So what can the fans do?

Simple -- we can worry. And wonder. And fret. And watch, while every vestige of charm is eroded from a game we have loved and followed with a passion that defies description.

That Jagmohan Dalmiya chooses to waffle, to treat lightly such a major crisis affecting the game he purportedly administers, right in the middle of his much-hyped Cricket Week designed to "popularise the game", is merely the crowning insult added on to gratuitous injury.

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