Why did Kambli and Condon stay quiet for so long?

Published: Nov 19, 2011, 06:07 IST | Ayaz Memon |

It would not be impertinent to ask both Sir Paul Condon and Vinod Kambli why they were like this fictional protagonist in making their views public for so long?

It would not be impertinent to ask both Sir Paul Condon and Vinod Kambli why they were like this fictional protagonist in making their views public for so long?

BARON Paul Condon, former head of the ICC's Anti Corruption Unit, and Vinod Kambli, former India batsman, have set the cat among the pigeons with their disclosures over the past few days. Kambli has alleged that India's 1996 World cup semi-final against Sri Lanka was fixed while Condon has revealed that that match-fixing and spot-fixing in cricket was not only rampant in the 1990s and the first decade of this millennium, but also that most international teams were involved in this.

Cheers: Javagal Srinath is congratulated by teammate Vinod Kambli
after the pacer got rid of Sri Lanka's Asanka Gurusinghe in the 1996
World Cup semi-final in Kolkata.
Pic/Getty Images

The fact that corruption exists in cricket and was probably at its peak in the 1990s is now well-documented, but it would not be impertinent to ask both Condon and Kambli why they were like Rip Van Winkle in making their views public for so long? It's been 15 years since the 1996 semi-final and Kambli suddenly wakes up to find that something was amiss then. And Condon finished with his assignment a couple of years back.

Sir Paul Condon

It would not be impertinent to ask what Condon did to arrest this problem in his near-decade long stint as chief of the ACU; or indeed what prevented Kambli from blowing the whistle when the cases against Azharuddin etc were being investigated several years ago.

It would be a signal disservice to the sport if Condon's research findings and assessments had been stored away as memorabilia for posterity, not affirmative action when he was heading the ACU. Even worse, if Kambli is merely looking for his 15 minutes of fame. The sport needs to be purged of corruption, but this can only happen by substantive evidence not speculation.

But unlike Kambli's seeming theatrics on a specific game, Condon's revelations are more generic and may have some basis in the information he has gathered and perhaps given to the ICC. Moreover, they also bust a few myths and alert administrators to where and what the problems may be.

First up that match/spot fixing is essentially a sub-continent phenomenon to which players from other countries are only innocent (or silent) bystanders. Ever since the late Hansie Cronje's nefarious activities were accidentally exposed by the Delhi police in circa 2000 (Condon's appointment as ACU chief was a consequence of this), there has been sustained typecasting that the sub-continent is not only the hub of match-fixing, but also that wayward players come from this region.

While the rise of the Asian illegal betting mafia has been well documented the assumption that only players from this region would be largely corrupt is ill-founded: it doesn't take a doctorate in history or philosophy to understand that greed is independent of race, colour or country.

It may be reasonable to believe that more players from the sub-continent got sucked into the racket given the boom in the game here, but it would be folly to believe that players from other countries were either innocent or na ve, as Condon points out now.

"There was something funny going on with many teams," he has said, or words to that effect. He is surely not referring to the aphorism that 'cricket is a funny game.'! Inquiries by commissions and investigations by the police carried out across several countries after the Hansie Cronje scandal broke seemed to suggest that the ring of wrongdoers was far larger than imagined. But with cricket Boards ranged against each other in a power struggle, or for reasons of dubious national interest, the collective will to fight the menace was lacking and many offenders went scot-free. While a re-look at some old cases (as the Delhi police has claimed it will in the Cronje matter) would still be worthwhile, in a broader sense, I think the second aspect of Condon's revelation -- where he mentions domestic cricket as the springboard for corruption -- may be more significant in salvaging the future.

Condon talks of how corruption is perhaps commonplace in English county cricket. Sharp practices on the county circuit (Imran Khan using a bottle cap to scuff the ball, others like John Lever using vaseline to get extra shine) are well known, but Condon says that cheating for money too had crept in insidiously through spot-fixing.

In 2009, for instance, Essex bowlers Danish Kaneria and Merwyn Westfield were probed by county officials and police for under-performing in a match and also served bans. The police case against them came to nought, but revived the fear that cheating may be more prevalent than believed.

Domestic cricket in other countries too has not been above suspicion. The early part of this Indian season has been engaged in unravelling the mystery behind Goa captain Swapnil Asnodkar inexplicably declining to chase a victory target was 130 from 19 overs. Corruption it is also widely believed is institutionalised in Pakistan's domestic cricket. Unsavoury - though unconfirmed -- reports have also emerged about problems in Australian cricket.

International matches and tournaments like the IPL have attracted all the attention where corruption is concerned, including the sting operation which exposed Butt, Asif and Aamer.  Domestic tournaments are not considered 'sexy' (in the newsworthy sense) or important enough by the media and administrators, and laxity in monitoring these has been noticeable.

This could have serious consequences. Players who get away by cheating at the domestic level are more likely to be emboldened to do it (out of choice or fear) at the international level too. The flip side is that players who don't make it to the highest level and thereby miss out on the massive financial rewards now available, could be tempted into hanky-panky because nobody is watching, as it were. The decision by the Australian and Pakistan cricket boards to have an anti-corruption unit monitoring domestic cricket has not come a day too soon. This should become common practice across the cricket world. It might not help in eradicating corruption completely. But every little bit helps.

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