A seasoned sleuth and calls for a life ban: hopeful signs in a sport beset by match fixing and greed

2011-06-04 00:00

TEN years after Hansie Cronjé’s death, corruption continues to dog the game. Several pertinent announcements about the topic were made during the week. First the Player’s Association announced that in a survey its members have voted overwhelmingly that the Pakistani players caught with their snouts in the trough were treated too leniently. Clearly international cricketers believe that life bans are required for any player involved in fixing. At least they care.

Next the ICC announced the appointment of Yogendra Pal Singh as the new head of the ICC anti-corruption and security unit. Singh has worked for three decades in the Indian Police Service, including several years with the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Both developments are encouraging. Don’t underestimate these Indian sleuths. When news broke that an Inspector Paul had claimed that Cronjé had been caught fixing cricket matches it was widely assumed that he was a latter-day Clouseau, the accident-prone French detective played by Peter Sellers. Not realising it was merely an imitation, some reporters listened to a tape of the supposed conversations and indignantly dismissed it as a fake. They concluded that the Indians were fools and that Cronjé was wrongly accused.

They were drinking from the tap of optimism, a point quickly confirmed by a reliable contact in Chennai. Probed about Paul, the contact replied that he was ruthless, efficient and calculating, and pointed out that he had risen through the ranks to take command of the police force operating in the capital city of the world’s biggest democracy. “Not Clouseau then?” I asked, “Far from it,” he replied. “Whatever he said at the press conference he can back up fivefold. He has put his career on the line.” And so it proved.

Upon arriving in India, Cronjé was presented with a cellphone and informed that he and his colleagues could make as many calls as they liked free of charge.

Cronjé assumed the gift came from a generous and cricket-loving patron, a breed thick on the ground in those parts. He had no way of knowing that his benefactor was under investigation and that his phone was tapped. Paul listened to the tapes and, unversed in cricket, was initially puzzled. Of course there were lots of calls made by lots of players, serious and saucy, but only the ones about match fixing bothered him. After that he was like a dog with a bone. Hereabouts I interviewed him in Delhi, and visited the jewellery shop run by one of the bookies, and can confirm that Paul was impressive and the gangster quite the opposite.

And so began Cronjé’s fall from grace. He was by no means alone among international captains — at least 10 have been implicated, though proof was lacking in some cases because the money trail is notoriously hard to follow.

Cronjé himself had observed other captains making a packet, and told me about it. He was undone not by bad luck but greed. He could not resist the temptation. He paid the penalty. Of course it is outrageous that so many of the corrupt, past and present, continue to make a fat living from the game as TV commentators and so on. None, so far as can be told, have confessed or otherwise assisted the authorities in their attempt to clean up the game.

Not that match fixing is the only blight. Money speaks in several languages. Sri Lanka’s pathetic collapse in Cardiff had money at its root. Senior players lingered at the IPL, arrived late and played badly in the Test match. Swiping sixes at 10 pm is not ideal preparation for building an innings or subduing a pace attack as it moves in for the kill. Inevitably the absence of the elders affected morale. The older hands set a bad example and the rest was inevitable. Perhaps they were dismayed by their crude treament by an incompeent board

Obviously it was the same in the West Indies as the hosts were held by a weakened Pakistani side on another rotten pitch and then endured another setback as India omitted several top players from the party to tour the Caribbean. Apparently they needed a rest. And why, pray, was that? Because they had taken part in IPL — a lucrative domestic competition of no consequence.

Of late readers have detected a strain of pessimism creeping into my cricket writings. Damn right. Scribes are not propagandists or salesman. Rather they are duty bound to call power to account, or else sign up for a lifestyle magazine. South African cricket is itself a mess. Far from thanking its chairperson for exposing financial irregularities, CSA turned on him and even managed to persuade itself that an internal inquiry sufficed. And still these people sit around head tables in Dubai and Jo’burg. Next the same supposed stewards of the game decided that two Tests were enough for the forthcoming series against Australia.

It is not a time for gaga grins.

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