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April 13, 2000


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Why did honest Hansie turn crooked Cronje?

Prem Panicker

You've got mail'.

With metronomic regularity, that message flashes on the computer screen here, throughout the day and far into the night.

It is an enormous, incredible outpouring. Of shock. Distress. Grief. Anger. And above all, bewilderment.

Why?, is the most commonly asked question. Why, in an age when cricketers are better paid than ever before, in an age when they make more money through endorsements and sponsorships than anyone ever imagined, would anyone want to do something so venal? Why Hansie Cronje, epitome -- or so we thought -- of all that is good and clean in the game of cricket?

The answer -- and let me state, right upfront, that this is not the whole answer, nor is it the only one; it is merely one answer that comes to my mind -- is 'opportunity'.

It is the one word, more than any other, that explains how criminals are created. Constant, in-your-face-and-won't-be-denied opportunity.

Before examining that word, that answer, though, let's spend a moment examining an answer that has been given, in the media in South Africa and in England, to name just two places.

That answer is that Hansie, poor chap, was so constantly harassed by those mean Indian bookies that he finally took the money just to shut them up -- but of course, he didn't throw matches or fix matches or anything of the kind. I mean, look how honest he was, he actually owned up!

Hansie Cronje With all due respect, guys, tell me the other one. First, the hows and wherefores of Hansie owning up. That night, a little before three, Hansie Cronje called a good friend of his. He wanted to discuss the affair, as he felt the damning flood of evidence wash over him, and to figure out ways and means of getting out of the hole he had dug for himself.

That friend was Ghoolam Rajah, manager of the South African cricket team. To Rajah, Hansie confessed that he had been 'dishonest', and asked his friend to suggest ways and means of getting out of the situation. He asked, too, that Rajah treat it as a confidence.

This, the Protean manager refused to do, and categorically told Hansie Cronje that either Hansie himself would have to publicly own up, or he, Rajah, would have no option but to blow the whistle on his captain. And that, in turn, forced Cronje's hand and impelled him to make that pre-dawn phone call to Dr Ali Bacher.

As to the 'harassment' -- again, this one sticks in the craw, obstinately unswallowed. For why? Because, as any journalist, or even fan, will tell you, the security surrounding visiting teams on tour in India is incredible. You are not allowed onto those floors of the hotel housing the team. Your calls are not put through unless your name figures on an approved list of callers -- approved, mind you, by the visiting team and its management. Bottomline -- a bookie can't call you, or get into your room, unless you allow him to.

Further. Even assuming the harassment, is accepting the money the only way out? You could complain to your team manager. To hotel security. You could go further and lodge a formal complaint with the police.

Yet further. Let us for argument buy the 'harassment' theory, and accept that Cronje couldn't get a moment's peace in his hotel room what with those pesky bookies constantly calling him up. Fine. Why, pray, did he voluntarily take, and use, a mobile phone given to him by a bookie?

Let's accept that Cronje succumbed to temptation. Admit, too, that in the sub-continent, the temptation to earn quick bucks is there, staring you in the face, all the time. Bookies are a cancer on the game, and it is about time the Federal government took note of the problem, and launched a flat-out effort, by the various law enforcement agencies involved, to stamp this evil out.

It can be done. For instance, the minute the Delhi police filed a case and announced that it was continuing investigations, the bookies in Mumbai and other centres have gone into hiding. Which proves that all it takes, to get them on the run, is the will to go after them. And that needs to be done, now.

But that is a law enforcement problem. Let us get back to the cricketing one. And the big question -- why?

Check out this table:

Year-wise summary of ODIs and Tests
Year Tests ODIs
1995 40 60
1996* 28 127
1997 44 115
1998 45 108
1999* 43 154
2000 13 55 (as on 11-4-2000)

What hits you in the face, first up?

Yeah, right -- Test cricket, to which all the administrators in all the countries duly pay lip service, like we do to Mahatma Gandhi one day in the year, continues to languish. While the ODI graph, like the cow in the nursery rhyme, jumps over the moon.

In 1995 -- which is not so far back in time -- a total of 60 ODIs were played. In 101 days this year, we have already played 55!

Check out 1999: 154 ODIs, as against just 43 Tests (two down from the previous year). The excuse that will be offered is that it was a World Cup year. Right, it was. There were 45 matches played during the World Cup -- which still leaves 109 others. Now think of it this way -- the nine Test-playing nations, plus the best of the associate nations, got together and played an ODI tournament of the highest profile, in 1999. Isn't that a good reason to spend the rest of the year playing more Tests and less ODIs?

But no, it actually works the other way around. For why? Simple economics -- all concerned, players, boards, administrators, earn far more for one ODI than they do for five days of a Test match.

So the more ODIs, the merrier for all concerned.

What has this mad ODI gold-rush done? It has reduced cricket, and cricketers, to the level of prostitutes, of the rent-a-room-for-an-hour-and-no-questions-asked variety. And in the process, it has taken away the pride and prestige associated with winning. After all, if two teams play each other eight times in the course of less than three weeks, as India and South Africa did recently, who remembers each individual defeat? Who cares?

This creates a situation for the cricketers where the only stake is money. And further, the cricketers are as aware -- in fact, obviously more so than you and me -- that their respective boards are happy to organise as many ODI tours as they can simply to earn more and more money. And it is not, mind you, only the Indian board that feels this way -- India is merely the worst, but by no means the only, offender.

Being aware that the boards, the administrators, are increasingly focussed with ruthless single-mindedness on minting money, can you really blame the cricketer who, after a while, starts thinking, 'Heck, if I play at this pace I am going to burn out soon enough; no one cares anyway whether I get a duck next match or a 100; the money is there to be made -- so why don't I make some for myself, while the making is good?'

The indications have been there all along, right? I mean, think back to the recent past. West Indies cricket was rocked by a pay dispute. As was the Australian board, with players not so long ago actually threatening a strike. And more recently, in England, contracts for the English cricketers have occasioned much heated debate, and considerable angst on the part of the cricketers themselves.

This should have told us two things: one, that the average cricketer felt himself short-changed, and believed that while the boards were minting money, they were being fobbed off with peanuts. And two, that such a situation was merely sugar-coating an already existing temptation, and making it possible for players to succumb.

And who is responsible for this situation?

The International Cricket Council.

Four years ago, the ICC summoned a meeting of all the captains of the Test-playing nations (Hansie Cronje represented South Africa at that one). And asked them to voice their concerns. And every single one of them argued that there were not enough Tests, and far too many ODIs. And that this was hurting the game, and killing off the players.

What did the ICC do? It announced that none of the Test-playing nations could play more than 30 ODIs and 12 Tests in any given year. And promptly ignored its own directive, and allowed the member boards to do what they damn pleased. Why the directive, then? Simply to give the public the feeling that the ICC was in fact working towards the betterment of the game. In other words -- dust in your eye, my friend.

Now to look at it from another angle. Assume I do something wrong, criminal, here at work. Assume, too, that my superiors know about it and by remaining silent and taking no action, effectively condone it. What does that do? In the first place, it makes me confident of doing wrong again. And more importantly, it gets the other members of the organisation thinking on the same lines and telling themselves, heck, if that guy could lie or cheat or do whatever it is and get away with the fruits of his wrongdoing, why are we being fools and sticking to the straight and narrow?

That makes sense?

Fine, now consider this -- and before I state the facts, I must mention here that I am indebted to regular reader Mani Ramchandran for going through the newspaper files and digging out the information for me. Now for the facts:

The match-fixing (in whole or part) bogey has been around for a long time. But for most of that time, all accusations centred around Indian and Pakistani players -- which made it possible for the rest of the predominantly 'white' cricket world to ignore the issue. You know how it goes -- 'Ah, what do you expect from the sub-continent anyway, dirty place full of filth and crime and corruption and crowds and disease and...'

But in 1996, all that changed. Shane Warne and Tim May alleged, in that year, that they had been approached by then Pakistan captain Salim Malik, during Australia's tour of Pakistan in late 1994, to play below par, for a consideration of Rs seven million apiece. And for the first time, the cricket world woke to the fact that big money could reach out to players outside of the sub-continent.

Then came the revelation, in 1998, that Shane Warne and Mark Waugh had in fact accepted money from an Indian bookmaker. For -- if you believe those two gentlemen -- sitting in an Indian hotel room and telling an Indian bookmaker what the weather in India was like. I mean, how ridiculous can we get, here? At the height of an Indian summer, what is the weather like? Simple -- it's sunny and it's hot. You actually need to pay someone 650 dollars apiece to find that out?

Whatever. The fact remains that those two gents finally 'fessed up. More accurately, the ACB confessed that it had been sitting on the information all along -- in other words, covering up. There was an outcry from the Australian public (luckily, in Australia unlike India, a public outcry does force administrators to act).

As a reaction to that outcry, an inquiry committee headed by Queen's Counsel Rob O'Regan was instituted to examine the whole issue. In due time, the report came out, passing strictures on the two cricketers, and on the board itself. But the most interesting aspect was that a section of the report was sealed, and sent to the ICC for further action. It was sealed because that section talked of the wrongdoings of certain international cricketers, which made it an affair external to the ACB, and therefore the purview of the ICC.

Jagmohan Dalmiya Around the same time, Jagmohan Dalmiya in a burst of media headlines announced the formation of an ICC committee to inquire into betting, bribery, match-fixing. 'We are serious, we will stamp this evil out of cricket', the ICC boss thundered at the time.

And? Nothing. Not one further word. That committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Griffith (Lord Griffith who?) has not had one single, solitary word on the subject. If it has examined the sealed section of the ACB report, it has not had anything official to say about it, nor has it taken any action at all.

Is it just me, or do you, too, think it is strange that while in India, film-stars and society darlings have been moved to come up with sound-bytes on the Cronje Caper, there has not been one word -- not-one-syllable -- of comment from Lord Griffith, and the committee that is supposed to be probing these matters?

Sure, there has been comment a-plenty from the ICC. In the form of its peripatetic chairman, Jagmohan Dalmiya. Who first reacted, much in the style of Pavlov's mice, with a flat out denial of Cronje's culpability. 'Rubbish', if I am not mistaken, was the word used. Then came the 'I am shocked'. Then came the 'ICC will hold a full inquiry'. Then came 'There will be no inquiry by the ICC -- the police are investigating and they are more competent'. (If that is the case, if police are more competent than the ICC -- which by the way is true, pretty much anyone is more competent than the ICC -- then why form a committee under Griffith in the first place?).

Then came 'We have ordered the South African board to investigate and report to us'.

Err -- excuse me, just when did the ICC order the UCBSA to investigate? Not when the story broke, because that was when Dalmiya was calling it rubbish. And certainly not after Cronje confessed, because the UCBSA, while announcing the confession, also announced the inquiry. So much for the ICC having ordered the UCBSA to do anything -- this is merely an attempt to earn brownie points out of a fait accompli; the inquiry is a fact, so why not create the impression that you ordered it, right?

So that is where we stand. One, there is plenty of money in the game. Two, there is discontent among the players. Three, with the possible exception of Australia which, under Steve Waugh, is too busy rewriting record books to bother about things like money, pride and prestige are no longer real issues for the other nations -- given the amount of cricket they are playing, it is just another day in office anyway. And finally, there is no effective deterrent in place -- what there is, is an authority that has in the past proved that it is only too ready to turn a blind eye to anything that it doesn't want to see.

Put all this together, and what do you have? The perfect scenario for corruption, right?

So why are we so surprised that cricketers are now revealed to be on the take? I think the problem is that we don't see cricketers as human beings -- which they are, with all the pluses and minuses that being human implies.

PART II: The Dhaka Connection


Prem Panicker

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