Corruption at the Crease

DiA’s Blog Editor Will Jones delves deep into the heart of the Indian subcontinent’s illegal gambling industry to investigate the state of corruption in cricket. Featuring interviews with influential cricket journalists and former international cricketers, the article reveals how despite the efforts of the ICC to eliminate crookedness from cricket, match-fixing is still an inherent aspect of the sport.

Epitomising the values of fair play and honour, Lords Cricket Ground has towered as the spiritual home of cricket for two centuries. Its hallowed surface however, once illuminated by legends including Sir Donald Bradman and WG Grace, was plunged into disrepute in August 2010. Exposed by the News of the World, Pakistan cricketers Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Asif and Salman Butt delivered three fixed no balls during a test match against England, as part of a £150,000 illegal betting scam.

Mohammed Amir’s infamous no ball

Betrayal in this instance went beyond the soul of cricket. Millions of adoring fans in native Pakistan, who were at that time grappling with the harrowing effects of devastating floods, were left dismayed. “It was absolutely disgraceful,” says Pakistani lawyer, Sahir Shamshad. “Pakistanis are devout cricket lovers and are immensely proud of their national team. Cricket helped to bring Pakistani people together during a difficult and troublesome period, so when the allegations broke, it was hugely demoralising.”

Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza, echoed the humiliation felt by his people: “The allegations have made the country bow its head in shame,” he pronounced. This sense of embarrassment was mirrored at the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) headquarters in Dubai, as the incident culminated a turbulent decade for the sport’s governing body.

After administering a succession of life bans for match fixing at the turn of the millennium, the ICC formed the Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) in 2000. The unit’s chief, Lord Paul Condon, was commissioned to scour the cricketing world and publish an extensive report on the state of corruption in cricket. Leaked to the Daily Telegraph on May 22nd, 2001, the findings of his investigation were conclusive, revealing institutionalised corruption and a conspiracy of silence within the sport.

The ICC headquarters in Dubai

Lord Condon’s conclusions were supported wholeheartedly by Justice Qayyam, who had been assigned to conduct a similar investigation in Pakistan – a nation identified by the ICC as being particularly vulnerable to corruption. The former High Court judge’s report included sweeping and well-informed match fixing accusations against several senior Pakistan players, including Mushtaq Ahmed and Wasim Akram.

The integrity of cricket at this time was indisputably under persistent threat. Consequently, based on Lord Condon’s recommendations, the ICC promised to deliver an education programme, tighter security and a more consistent approach to player contracting, with the intention of bringing corruption “under control and reduced to an absolute minimum” by the 2003 World Cup.

Cynics however remained doubtful of the ICC’s power to curb corruption, particularly in the subcontinent. And despite negotiating a relatively uncontroversial World Cup in 2003, the ACSU’s aptitude was questioned when murmurings of foul play re-emerged at the subsequent 2007 tournament in the West Indies.

Bob Woolmer with Pakistan player Shahid Afridi

Following Pakistan’s surprise defeat to Ireland, their head coach, Bob Woolmer, was found dead in his hotel room. Initial reports suggested a heart attack but when evidence of strangulation emerged, a murder investigation was launched. Rumours circulated that Mr. Woolmer had extensive knowledge of endemic match fixing within his squad and had threatened to expose such truths in a book publication following the conclusion of the World Cup. Thus members of a mafia betting syndicate silenced him.

After a lengthy court case, the jury eventually returned an open verdict, refusing to rule out murder. The events that unfolded in Jamaica still remain a mystery. Nevertheless, friend of Mr. Woolmer and former captain of South Africa, Clive Rice, remains confident that he was killed. “Bob Woolmer did not die of a heart attack. I think the ICC swept the murder under the carpet deliberately,” he says. “I believe he recognised that his team threw that match. Every single one of the Pakistan batsmen got out caught – now that would be a royal flush in poker. He confronted his players on the bus after the game and I have no doubt that he was going to reveal the truth after the tournament. Bob knew too much and he was taken out […] these mafia betting syndicates do not stop at anything.”

Orchestrated by a nexus of ruthless South Asian crime lords, some of whom are believed to have ties with Al Qaeda, mafia led betting syndicates across the subcontinent have thrived over the past decade. “These people are some of the world’s most powerful and dangerous men,” says Scyld Berry, Sunday Telegraph’s chief cricket correspondent. Masquerading as guest hotels, newsagents and phone shops, their international gambling hubs drive the illegal betting scams. The ACSU’s prevention powers in this instance have been hampered by Asia’s unregulated betting industry, whereby it is virtually impossible to monitor gambling and thus cast an eye over suspicious patterns of betting.

Match-fixer Mazhar Majeed with members of the Pakistan team

These mafia led gambling syndicates have benefited from the continued growth of the spread betting market, which enables gamblers to bet on specific elements of a match. This form of betting encourages spot-fixing, where fixers will aim to manipulate small events within the game rather than influence the overall result. Facilitating a fix in this instance often requires the complicity of only one member of a team. Consequently, cons have become substantially more difficult to detect.

“Cricket is a lengthy and complex game full of internal variables. There are so many individual propositions,” says Matthew Engel, the editorial director of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. “A no-ball, where a player trespasses over the line, may happen thirty or forty times in the course of a test match. An extra one here or there will almost never affect the final result and would go unnoticed by the authorities and the public.”

Pakistan players have been identified by the subcontinent’s betting syndicates as being particularly susceptible to bribery and have therefore been targeted constantly. Their vulnerability stems primarily from the substantial wage gap that continues to exist in cricket, despite Lord Condon’s recommendation in 2001, which stated the immediate need to address the inconsistent earnings of international cricketers.

Mahendra Dhoni – India’s highest paid player

Contracted for a modest £25,000 annually, Pakistan players are among the least rewarded international cricketers. The problem is compounded by the current political impasse, which excludes Pakistani cricketers from competing in the money-spinning Indian Premier League. The lucrative financial opportunities and endorsements offered by this tournament have ensured that certain rival Indian players earn a reputed £6 million annually. Resentment and jealousy is therefore inevitable.

It would be ignorant however to suggest that the misadventures of the Pakistani players at Lords last summer can be attributed solely to financial incentives. According to John Etheridge, The Sun’s leading cricket correspondent, their actions reflect the wider troubles of an unstable nation, blighted by political venality. “There’s a history of corruption within the government and military, and a culture of greeting people’s palms in Pakistan,” he says. “Corruption is endemic in society – that’s just the way the country operates. If you offer a little inducement financially, you can get things done.”

Changing a nation’s social dynamics and regulating Asia’s illegal betting industry is beyond the authority of the ICC. Yet the integrity of cricket’s global governing body, in particular their lacklustre security measures, was rightfully questioned following the events that unfolded at Lords. Although match-fixer Mazhar Majeed featured on ACSU compiled security lists, the ICC failed to prevent him from acting as an agent to several members of the Pakistan team.

Following an ICC tribunal, suspensions ranging from five to ten years were imposed on the three convicted players. But despite the relative severity of these bans, rumours of further match fixing persist. In February of this year, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka hosted an enthralling World Cup. Buried deep below the tournament’s polished exterior however, further whispers of corruption.

Holland take on India at the 2011 World Cup

“During the World Cup, I received lots of messages on my phone about exact match results, player’s individual scores and correct scoring trends for the first and final thirty overs of the match. How is this possible?” says Shantanu Guha Ray, India Today’s Deputy Editor. Betfair’s chief cricket correspondent, Ed Hawkins, supports these suspicions: “It has been reported that a bookie was in India’s dressing room before their match against Holland […] there is no doubt that match fixing took place at the World Cup.”

According to Matthew Engel, the way in which the ICC structured the tournament encouraged corruption: “They’re a notoriously dysfunctional organisation, controlled by Indian interests and obsessed with political and financial manoeuvring rather than the game itself,” he says. “Given everything that was known about cricket’s vulnerability, to set up a world cup which was designed solely to ensure masses of television advertising time and secondly, to guarantee that India couldn’t be knocked out before the final week of the tournament, was utterly disgraceful.”

In spite of these allegations, Haroon Lorgat, the ICC’s Chief Executive believes that cricket’s governing body have fought corruption successfully over the past decade. Speaking on BBC’s Hardtalk this week, he stated that, “I’m reasonably confident that we’ve tackled it head on.” Many would disagree. “The credibility and honour of cricket has been lost,” says Clive Rice. “Every time you see a dropped catch, a missed stumping or a batsman playing an eccentric shot, you’re forced to raise a suspicious eyebrow.” And when one considers the shift of cricket’s power to the east, the sport’s growing financial incentives and the inherent weakness of the ICC, it appears that an absolute end to corruption and a restoration of trust is not imminent.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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