Eleven years back when the entire Hansie Cronje saga was played out, cricket had its first experience of match-fixing at the highest level and ironically, that was my first understanding about the game as well. Bookmakers came into public existence. ICC setup an anti-corruption unit to tackle the gravest challenge it had faced. Cricket's reputation and integrity was tarnished and in danger of being destroyed.
Since then, an air of suspicion has always hovered around the game. Cricketers Salim Mallik and Ata-ur-Rehman were banned; Qayyum Report came in 2000, Kings Commission did a commendable job and it seemed to be positive steps by ICC to curb this menace.
Eleven years since the tumultuous phase, my understanding of cricket is a bit better, but never has my faith in the game been fiddled with like this. Aptly putting in words while sentencing remarks on spot-fixing trail, Justice Cooke stated:
“Now, when people look back at a surprising
event in a game or a surprising result or ever in the future there are surprising results, followers of the game who have paid to watch cricket or who have watched cricket on TV will wonder whether there has been a fix or what they have watched was natural."
And this was the most moving part in Justice Cooke’s entire sentencing which has been resonating at large in cricketing circles since the Cronje episode. Sub-continental teams, from being feisty opponents have become the all conquering power in world cricket; and the dichotomy lies in between the lines. They are the power to reckon with, unfortunately that power is resting in the wrong hands, and so is the belief.
For Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir, cricket became a money making venture devoid of the passion and compassion they would have had for the game. Same would be true for Mohammed Azharuddin, Cronje, Salim Mallik et al. But nevertheless, cricket has been disgraced.
In Azharuddin, India could have got more out of an innovative captain; In Salman Butt, Pakistan would have been hopeful in getting a successor to Saeed Anwar and in Asif and Amir, cricket could have got two gifted and rare breed of fast bowlers.
However, today they all stand bearing testimony to the fact that all is not well with cricket.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)