Corruption in Cricket

Cricket Corruption

It was not so long ago that if you wanted to uncover corruption on a massive scale the last place you would have bothered looking was in the respectable, upstanding world of cricket.

But towards the end of the 20th century the noble sport's impeccable reputation was dragged into the gutter and beyond as a series of betting scandals rocked it to its core.

World-class players were linked with a string of allegations so serious that many punters had no hesitation in deciding they would rather burn their money than bet on cricket.

Some were cleared, others were caught. But by far the highest-profile cricketing crook was Hansie Cronje, the South African who was hailed a hero for so long by his people but died in disgrace at the age of 32.

Cronje captained his country from the age of 24 and led the Proteas to 27 victories in 53 Tests, making him the fourth most successful captain in Test cricket history.

But his love of making runs was matched by his love of making money and when the match-fixers knocked at his door, Cronje did not slam it in their face.

As is so often the case in such murky episodes as this, it took just one revelation to open the lid on a breathtaking litany of greed and dishonesty. That revelation came from the Delhi police, who claimed to have a recording of a mobile phone conversation between Cronje and an Indian bookmaker regarding the one-day series between South Africa and India in March 2000.

The voice alleging to be Cronje's divulged information about the team, including a suggestion that off-spinner Derek Crookes would open the bowling later in the series and that Herschelle Gibbs should not score more than 20 runs in a match. Gibbs did indeed score 19 in the identified match in Faridabad, while Crookes opened the bowling in the final match and later admitted his astonishment at being asked to do so.

Four days after denying any wrongdoing, Cronje admitted to not having been "entirely honest" and down came the house of cards.

Nelson Mandela personally guaranteed immunity from prosecution for Cronje if he agreed to spill the beans and his three days of testimony to the King Commission were spellbinding and contemptible in equal measure.

His international colleagues Pat Symcox and Gibbs had already tarnished Cronje's reputation, Symcox by revealing that as long ago as 1996 the Proteas had discussed taking £200,000 to throw a one-day international in Bombay, while Gibbs confirmed he had agreed to Cronje's offer of £10,000 to score under 20 runs in a match.

Cronje eventually admitted to having taken around £100,000 from bookmakers for information, though there are many who believe the figure was far higher.

We will probably never know. Cronje, who left the King Commission in tears and in disgrace, was banned from all cricketing activity for life and died in a plane crash in June 2002. Plenty of people suspect he was murdered.

Cronje wasn't the only world-famous cricketer to suffer a life ban for finding the lure of easy money from insatiable bookmakers irresistible.

The same fate befell Salim Malik in May 2000 after Australian stars Shane Warne, Tim May and Mark Waugh alleged the former Pakistan captain offered them £75,000 to underperform during a Test in Karachi in 1994.

Not that Warne and Waugh were blameless. Both men were themselves fined after receiving money from a Calcutta bookie known only as John, for information about pitch and weather conditions during their tour of Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the same year.

The unholy trinity of ex-captains banned for life was completed by Mohammad Azharuddin. He and fellow player Ajay Sharma received their punishments from the Board of Cricket Control for India after Azharuddin had admitted fixing three one-day internationals, though he strenuously denied being paid by a bookmaker to do so.

In the fall-out from that case, Ajay Jadeja was banned for five years though he later cleared his name, but more sinister was the response from Azharuddin. "Match-fixing simply cannot be a one-man show," he said. "This is a game which involves 11 players. If a team fails, it is spectacularly unfair to single out one person. What I am trying to say is that unless the entire team is part of the conspiracy, match-fixing cannot take place."

The once gentlemanly game of cricket has been severely tarnished by these high-profile episodes and the upshot of so many investigations is that many more matches, particularly on the Asian sub-continent and in Sharjah though also closer to home, have come under the microscope.