IT WOULD be amusing to read all about the apportioning of blame by various people in the wake of the recent revelations about match-fixing, were it not for the fact that the whole thing is so damn serious. But then one should not be surprised about all the breast-beating that is going on – it is common for people to concentrate on the effects and forget the cause.
It does not take much effort to go back to the event that provided the seed for the growth of match-fixing in cricket. Remember, one is not talking about betting on cricket, that has been around for as long as the game has been played.
In 1980 the first international one-day cricket match was held in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. This was sanctioned by the International Cricket Council and it marked the start of trouble. The matches in Sharjah increased in number and India’s win in the 1983 World Cup gave the tournaments held in the desert emirate a fillip.
For one, the Sharjah tournaments were built on one factor – the enmity between India and Pakistan. There was always a third team invited (or even a fourth) to make up the numbers, but given the large numbers of Indian and Pakistani expatriates in the UAE, they were the focus.
Additionally, the Sharjah cricket organisers opened the doors to illegal betting of huge amounts by people of dubious reputations. Apart from the cricket, celebrities from both India and Pakistan were invited to attend. The UAE is a peculiar place – you can walk in to the country with a million dollars in a suitcase and no questions are asked but if you carry a Bible in, you may be questioned for an hour or more. Before oil came into the picture, Dubai was better known as the source of gold smuggling into India.
Both India and Pakistan have massive amounts of black money in their respective economies and lots of this money was used to wager large amounts in Sharjah. A great many dubious people offered awards in Sharjah to buy popularity and these were accepted without any hesitation – Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad earned more than a million dollars in 1986 when he hit a six off the last ball of a game to defeat India and win a tournament for Pakistan.
The UAE is known to harbour a number of people who are wanted in other parts of the world, people like the smuggler Dawood Ibrahim, who fled India in 1993 after he was being sought by police as a suspect in the bombing of the Bombay stock exchange that same year.
It is inconceivable that the ICC was unaware of all the goings-on but it chose to turn a blind eye. Cricketers were benefitting financially – the Sharjah organisers used to present three cricketers with money at every tournament – and the ICC was being paid the fees it sought. What’s more, any ICC bigwig who visited during the tournament was treated like God.
But the tournaments provided the means for illegal bookies and people of their ilk to gain access to players – one merely had to host a reception in Dubai for the cricketers (no liquor is served in hotels in Sharjah, hence the choice of Dubai which is just a 20-minute drive from Sharjah) during the tournament and one could pal up with the best players from India and Pakistan.
The money attracted other teams too and as the years went on the organisers scored their biggest coup by signing the West Indies, at that time the hottest property in world cricket. Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka all came and played and were feted and wined and dined. Nobody raised any question as to why cricket in the desert was needed. It was something like the Packer days again, only this time the ICC gave the whole shindig its blessing.
Prior to Sharjah, there was hardly any talk of throwing a game of cricket. It took a few years for the bookies to develop their contacts to the point where they could make demands. Sharjah began hosting two tournaments a year soon after it started operations and this provided a fast track for unsavoury activities to grow.
in the 1990s , there was more and more talk about matches being influenced by factors other than the players’ ability. On the Indian tour of the West Indies in 1997, one Test, when India fell for 81 when chasing a little over 100 for victory, was a game that came in for some examination. An Indian writer, R. Mohan of the well-known Indian paper, The Hindu, lost his job after his betting activities came to light. And by the turn of the century, a few cricketers had been found out and banned from the game.
It is easy to gain access to junior players once one knows the seniors. And mind you, the seniors need not be in the pay of bookies, but merely acquainted enough to be persuaded to introduce others to the men who pay cricketers to fix games. After all, if you were told that Al Capone wanted to meet you during the heyday of that gentleman’s existence, would you have turned it down?
The ICC never objected to cricket being played in Sharjah. The only reason why the tournaments are no longer being held there is because there is no space on the international calendar after the future tours programme was put into practice. The ICC has even shifted its own headquarters to Dubai – simply because it benefits from the no-tax regime in the UAE and also gets free flights from Emirates airline – which is owned by the ruling family of Dubai – for its officials. When an international body has sold itself out in this manner, can it ever hope to call attention to the wrong-doings of its players?