Tag Archives: India

The Bangladesh match fixing trial hits closer to home…

BPL Logo

Today saw the start of an International Cricket Council (ICC) tribunal in Bangladesh, which will investigate claims of match fixing in the 2013 Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). Amongst the individuals being investigated is Kent all-rounder Darren Stevens, who is not charged with match fixing, but with failing to report a corrupt approach made to him while he was playing for the Dhaka Gladiators. If he’s found guilty then he faces a ban of up to 5 years, which, for a player approaching 38 years old, would surely mean the end of his career.

I should declare an interest here. As a Kent supporter, Steven’s rambunctious batting displays over the last few years have been a source of rare pleasure. He’s a fine batsman, in both the short and long forms of the game and a useful medium pace bowler. This season has probably been his best ever; scoring a blazing 44 ball century as Kent successfully chased down a seemingly impossible target of 337 against Sussex in the YB40 competition, and a mature, unbeaten 205 to give Kent their first home County Championship win in their last game of the season. These performances are even more incredible when you consider that he has had the threat of this investigation hanging over him for most of the season.

At first glance, his punishment might seem harsh, considering that he hasn’t actually done anything corrupt, except that is the problem, he is alleged to have done nothing, when he should have done something. In this case (as in most), ignorance is no defence. Passage 2.4.2 of the ICC code of conduct is very clear on this matter, all approaches should be reported without undue delay. As a Kent player, Stevens would have been well aware of these rules as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is very pro-active in educating county cricketers about their responsibilities in this area.

Stevens has said that he will plead not guilty to the charge, and in his statement, insisted that he had not been involved in any corrupt activity. The fact that Stevens has pleaded not guilty is interesting, not because I’m suggesting he’s guilty, but because he has stated publicly that he is going to Bangladesh to save his career. The maximum punishment is a 5 year ban, but, typically, somebody pleading guilty would likely get a reduced sentence. However, even a two year ban for Stevens would mean he would be turning 40 by the time he was allowed to return to playing professional cricket, so pleading not guilty and aiming to be cleared by the tribunal may be his best option of saving his career.

BPL

Dhaka Gladiators vs Barishal Burners in the BPL (Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/nazmulbd)

Many fans are critical over the way that the global sport is run, and have questioned the success of the ICC, and it’s dedicated Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (the ACSU), which led the investigation into fixing in the BPL. It has relatively small resources to deal with a global problem and often seems to be several steps behind those that it is trying to police. It is not helped, of course, by the fact betting is illegal in Bangladesh (and, more importantly, in India), which makes it impossible for the authorities to have a constructive relationship with bookmakers, as they do in the UK, where bookmakers are legally obliged to report suspect betting patterns.

One of my other great sporting passions is professional cycling, which as I’m sure readers will know, is a sport that seems irrevocably tainted by the problem of doping. For a long time, cycling’s governing body, the UCI and those working within the sport seemed happy to brush the problem under the carpet. Even when testing was made more rigorous after the infamous Festina scandal of 1998, there remained stories of positive test results being suppressed and shady deals being done. The UCI seemed to think that it was better to keep negative stories out of the public eye, which in turn made the problem worse as riders felt they could get away with cheating and fans started to lose their faith in the sport.

The Hansie Cronje scandal blew the lid off the murky world of match fixing in cricket, but nobody seemed entirely surprised, even some of his fellow players. Many believe that the sport is still deeply corrupt. No matter how well the ACSU do their job or how stiff the penalties are, there will always be those greedy enough to risk their careers to make extra money by either fixing matches, or just providing valuable information to bookmakers (which is also an offence under the ICC code of conduct). What cricket must learn from cycling is that a credible zero tolerance policy is the only way of ensuring as few people are tempted as possible. Rules must be strictly enforced and those who are found guilty need to be dealt with as severely as possible, or the whole system will be undermined if the rewards continue to appear to outweigh the risks.

This might seem tough for those players unwillingly caught up in scandals, but by doing this it means that those seeking to corrupt the game risk exposing themselves every time they approach a player to fix a match or to provide information. It is possible that players may be scared off reporting approaches if those who approach them threaten them with reprisals. Put yourself in the place of a cricketer, playing T20 cricket in a foreign country, surrounded by people he doesn’t know. Then imagine an approach by people, who by their very nature are likely to be unscrupulous; it’s not a position I’d like to find myself in. For the system to work, authorities must be aware of this and show a commitment to protecting those players who are brave enough to speak out. Fans and other players must also do their bit, by not scapegoating those who speak out, as happened in the case of Tony Paladino, the Essex cricketer who reported Mervyn Westfield.

As I mentioned above, it’s hard to imagine cricket making a significant impact on taming corruption, when gambling is illegal in India, the country that dominates the sport. This is, of course, out of the hands of the ICC, but as we saw in Ed Hawkins’ excellent “Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy”, the Indian gambling industry is large and well organised, prohibition has failed and actually makes the problem of sporting fraud worse, especially when the police themselves are often seen to be corrupt. One wonders how long the Indian government can continue to overlook the economic and legal benefits of legalising the gambling industry in deference to those who cite moral and religious reasons for not doing so.

Like most fans, I abhor the idea of sport being corrupted, but I’m not naïve enough to believe it is not widespread. When a player like Darren Stevens, who represents all that is exciting on a cricket field is drawn into this world it does test your loyalties. I would be very sad if I could never see Stevens in action for Kent again, but IF he is found guilty then I accept that our loss is cricket’s futures gain.

Another bloody blog about Sachin Tendulkar

After much discussion, media hype and twitter hyperbole from all sides, it is finally upon us, Sachin Tendulkar is playing his last game of professional cricket. You don’t need me to tell you how good he was, what a fabulous advocate he was for the game of cricket or what an inspiration he was to millions of his countrymen, we’ve seen it all over the last quarter of a century. Whether he scores a fine century or gets run out without facing a ball is pretty irrelevant, though this particular soppy old git would like to see at least a few reminders of why we’re getting so excited about him.

Perhaps bizarrely, my main interest in all this isn’t really the cricketing aspect, at his peak, Tendulkar was an incredible player, but his fame, in India at least, goes way beyond that. he’s come to represent the growth and confidence of an entire nation.

We mustn’t get carried away, of course, India is still ridden with poverty, graft and corruption still pervades, but slowly and defiantly it is moving from a divided, post colonial mess, towards a modern, secular society. The liberal economic policies of the 1990s have seen GDP per capita rise from $352 when Tendulkar was making his Test debut in 1989, to $1414 today. With such incredible economic growth and the fact that it’s the worlds largest democracy, India has much to be proud of, but a long way still to travel.

As often happens, the outlet for much of this pride is sport, and cricket in particular. Cricket has long been an obsession for many Indians, but the reign of King Sachin, has seen a great deal of success for the national team, and of the course the explosion of T20, which may have been invented in England, but has been turned into a sporting and financial success in India. In a nation often divided by geography and caste, he has been a figurehead for all Indians, a mast which has been used to haul up the billowing flag of a nation that is confident, that is going places and that others need to respect. His own personality helps, he’s a modest man, devoted to and very protective of his family. Cricket has of course made him very wealthy, with a variety of business interests, which perhaps, makes him and even better symbol of modern India. He has used his position to support underprivileged children in his native Mumbai, though his fame makes visiting the slums almost impossible. He looks likely to take up politics after cricket.

It is ironic, that Tendulkar was not, perhaps, a stand out player in the smash and grab of T20 cricket, he only ever played 1 international T20 match for India, though his domestic T20 average of 32.9 is not to be sniffed it, The fact is that his reputation was already sealed by then, his record in Test and one day cricket is incredible, and many of his records look set to stand for some time, particularly with the way the game, particularly in the sub-continent, is tilting towards the shorter format of the game. Some perspective is required however; yes, he was an incredible player, capable of playing aggressively against the finest bowlers of his generation, but he was often surrounded by many other great players, both in his own team and amongst the opposition. Looking at the India team of 2013, he’s almost a relic, normally when a great player retires it leaves a yawning gap, but in this case I’m not convinced it does, MS Dhoni is a fine captain and a rambunctious player, Virat Kohli, perhaps the first great product of the T20 generation.

AS I finish this, Tendulkar has just taken to the crease, enjoy your last hurrah Sachin, you’ve earned it. India will miss you, but Indian cricket probably won’t.