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July 24, 2019

When cricket meets corruption: Battle between the good and evil


Wed, Jul 24, 2019

Cricket for long has borne the stain of corruption in the world, but has clung on to this side of the globe perhaps more firmly than the others as it continues to be an interminable battle between the good and evil.

Bringing to light the murkier side of the much-loved sport, writer, counter-terrorism professional and ‘cricket tragic’ Omar Shahid Hamid unveiled the largely untold story of the ‘dirtied’ game during a talk at Agha Khan University Hospital’s Sixth Sense Forum on Tuesday.

“We as Pakistanis are cricket crazy and we seem to love conspiracy theories,” he said.

“This is the area where we as fans have been trembling about, trying to understand and come to grips with this issue of corruption, especially when it involves those people that we tend to put on a pedestal.”

-Tracing the trail-

Corruption and cricket came to crossroads, 30 years ago.

Sharjah’s emergence as an offshore venue for cricket matches, especially between India and Pakistan, marked its success because a sizeable population of expats in the region came from the two neighboring countries which eventually opened its doors to desirability and a sense of rivalry that was glamourized.

“When Bollywood met cricket and the sport became a rave carnival,” as Hamid puts it.

Tracing the gradual advent of gambling that led to match fixing, Hamid thinks back at Bombay’s underworld where “betting on cricket emerged as a rather profitable alternative to established criminal enterprises. There was a large population of people willing to bet in both India and Pakistan, and they were encouraged to do so as both the countries had gambling laws that were antiquated and perhaps still are.”

An example of the antiquation of the Public Gambling Act 1867 in India, more or less akin to the one in Pakistan. “The fine if you are caught gambling in India, is still Rs200.”

“The business then moved from betting on matches where you were unsure of the result, with the jump making sure you had a fair understanding of the result by incorporating a number of players who would ensure you that they would give you your desired result.”

He goes on to term India and Pakistan the natural first victims of the new trend owing to the Sharjah games and the links but why?

“Why not? To them it seems harmless,” he says.

Omar Shahid Hamid unveiled the largely untold story of the ‘dirtied’ game during a talk at Agha Khan University Hospital’s Sixth Sense Forum on Tuesday.

- Cricket corruption: A South Asian phenomenon? -

Rejecting the widely-held claim, Hamid goes on to list the numerous non-South Asian players with dirtied hands.

However, he says: “There are cultural nuances in South Asian teams that perhaps make it harder for individuals to not get involved in these activities.”

“Mirroring South Asian societies and their culture, the status given to a captain. A senior or an elder is given more weightage. Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka have struggled with seniority taking precedence as they were considered untouchable over being senior. Example being Ms Dhoni and his performance in this World Cup.”

Another characteristic evident in South Asian teams, according to Hamid, was their disability to gel as a unit.

“As soon as they are in, they are worried about losing their place and status,” he adds.

- ICC and the Big Three-

From division of the resources to the scheduling of series and franchise leagues, the International Cricket Council has continuously on the surface shown signs of duplicity associated to the Big Three --India, Australia and England.

“I think if you look at the history of the global sporting bodies, there should be a proviso in their charters when they are named, that these bodies are going to abuse their power.

“It is because these bodies do not go through a public scrutiny process. So essentially they are people who are patrons of that sport who are able  to, through the use of their resources, get to positions of power. And through their national bodies, launch themselves into international high-profile roles,” he said.

“They can make up any rule that they wish to make up. It’s not possible for these bodies to not  be corrupt or overreach themselves.” he added.

- Franchise cricket-

Franchise cricket has played a hefty role in cocooning the phenomenon of match fixing into the sport as punters are more likely to bet on a match that wouldn’t mean a lot in the greater form of things.

“The rise of franchise cricket is another side effect to the way this sport has transitioned in the last 20 years,” says Hamid.

Moreover, he explained how the spectacle especially in this region, doesn’t seem to be something you could make money off, certainly in the short term.

“How would you hedge those losses? The answer is fixing. There have been scandals of match fixing in each of these cricket franchises, in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Caribbean.”

He goes on, shifting the blame on boards and administrators who view their franchise leagues as ‘Golden Gooses laying golden eggs’. So why rock the boat?

- ‘We do it if they do it’ -

He held administrators partially liable for brushing things under the carpet as they have done over the course of 20 years, to preserve the national pride.

After multiple cases of spot fixing were over turned by Indian and Pakistani players, Hamid cites former captain of the Green Shirts, Salman Butt as giving the following as a defense:

“What we did was peanuts compared to what they did.”

- India vs England: A fix or an overestimation? -

While India’s flimsy performance against England in this World Cup had raised multiple doubts for the Men in Blue, Hamid finds it hard to believe that the team intentionally delivered a shabby performance to oust Pakistan.

“Even if they did throw it, it was for money not to spite Pakistan,” he said.

On the other hand, he also terms the team’s overestimation of their form a great cause of the defeat of the much-talked about, contentious clash.

“I think it was more a case of the Indian team overestimating themselves and everyone else buying into that.”