Nov 11, 2012

From Hero to Villain- The Dark Side of Cricket

Cricket was once considered a gentleman's game. In fact, it still is! It is one of the most popular sports in the world (although Football edges past it easily). Cricket is considered a religion in the largest democracy of the world, and Cricketers Gods! However, there still remains a dark side to the beautiful game- the match fixing, the bookmakers, and those unfortunate players, who were once considered heroes, get lured into this vicious cycle!

Wessel Johannes "Hansie" Cronje was the man who changed the face of South African cricket. He will always be remembered as someone who made the South African cricket team one of the most feared in world cricket! I really appreciated the way he played, marshaling his troops. I would always remember the only innings forfeiture in test cricket, in January 2000 against England, at Centurian. Having already won the series 2-0, and after almost the whole test was washed out, he declared 0-0, to make a game out of it, which England eventually won(Scorecard)! All was going well for him, or so it seemed, until the revelations by the Delhi police regarding that fateful South Africa tour of India.

Cronje breaks down during the trial
Cronje eventually released a statement. It turns out he had his first contact with bookmakers back in 1996, another India series. The innings forfeiture I mentioned above (unfortunately) was also a result of match fixing! His hard work, his talent- everything forgotten for a moment of weakness! He got a life fan, and did not live enough for his appeal to reduce the ban materialize.

What's left of Cronje's aircraft
In June 2002, when his flight was grounded, he flew as the only passenger in a specially scheduled flight. The pilots lost visibility in clouds, were unable to land, partly due to unusable navigational equipment, and the plane crashed- killing Cronje and the two pilots. Conspiracy theorists still believe it was the work of the bookmarking rings- for the true identity of the Indian bookmaker "Sanjay", who contacted Cornje multiple times, is still unknown. Yes, I miss Cronje's captaincy; his tenacity- it was a big loss to Cricket- but how could he do that?

Cronje was named the 11th Greatest South African of all time by a TV Series by the same name in 2004, two years after his death, even after the controversies that plagued his otherwise glittering career- such is the love of his countrymen! Herschelle Gibbs was also banned for six months. But the mushroom cloud of the scandal had just began forming...

Azharuddin during the peak of his career
Hansie Cronje was a truly gifted cricketer. So was Mohd Azharuddin. It had been a long time since India had seen such a classy batsman- his characteristic wrist flick the best eye candy for a cricket fan! Back in the days when Sadagoppan Ramesh and Sourav Ganguly would open the batting, with Azhar at no 4, I would pray to God for taking two wickets just for the sake of watching Azharuddin bat.

And then, he betrayed the nation; the millions, if not billions, of fans. Hansie Cronje implicated him in the scandal saying Azharuddin introduced him to the bookies. He later admitted to having fixed three ODIs. He said in an interview that he was being targeted as he was from a minority community! How ridiculous can you be?

Recently, the Andhra Pradesh high court lifted the life ban, but at the age of 49, it makes absolutely no sense, considering the BCCI had lifted the ban back in 2006, and the ICC had already refused to lift it. That was one more example of how a speck of stupidity can destroy you, even if you were one of the most successful captains of the country! Azharuddin eventually joined politics, and is now an MP- but it hardly matters!

Another such player was Ajay Jadeja. Having been an important player for the cricket team, and known for his quick scoring and safe pair of hands during his tenure, he was banned for five years for alleged contacts with bookmakers. Coincidentally, Jadeja and Azharuddin hold the ODI partnership records for the fourth and the fifth wickets. Manoj Prabhakar was also implicated in the scandal.

It's been almost ten years. Times have changed, match fixing has evolved. What is popular now is 'spot fixing'! And it took Pakistan Cricket by storm! Mohammed Amir (who was just 18 then), Mohammed Asif and Salman Butt were implicated and consequently banned! All of them were youngsters with great potential; I wonder how could they do it, just for some money- with their whole life ahead of them! Doesn't IPL-like leagues provide you with that kind of money now?

I would conclude this with a question. As a respected, loved person in your country, is there a one time payment, a figure, for which you will sell yourself?

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