Monday, August 30, 2010

Is fixing a cricket match really so bad?

On May 29, 1646, a cricket match was held at Coxheath, Kent. Samuel Filmer and Thomas Harlackenden played against four men of Maidstone, with a dozen candles as a wager on the result. Filmer and Harlackenden won, but the Maidstone men refused to pay up and it went to court, thus becoming the first recorded instance of an organised cricket game.

Bear that in mind when reading the stories today about "cricket's darkest day" and the Pakistani betting scandal. Gambling has always been in cricket's blood. Indeed, staking money on the game was one of the main reasons it flourished, with wealthy patrons in the 17th and 18th centuries founding teams to take on others and win them money.

An Act of Parliament in 1664 set a limit of £100 that could be staked on cricket. By happy quirk, that is worth about £150,000 today, which is the amount that the News of the World offered to get in on the latest betting ride.

The claim is that two Pakistan bowlers were offered money to bowl no-balls, that is illegal deliveries, at three points in the match with England last week. Gamblers in India stake huge sums on such insignificant events and if rigged there is the potential to make big money.

And yet what is really so bad about what they did? So-called spot-fixing on specific incidents, as opposed to match-fixing when batsmen deliberately get themselves out or bowlers allow themselves to be hit around for a few overs, does not alter the result of a match or even its course. Those three no-balls happened during a period when England were otherwise under the cosh from Pakistan's bowlers.

Who is really cheated by the odd paid-for no-ball? Only the bookmakers who offer odds against it happening and the punters who stick money on it but given that betting is illegal in India, can anyone really feel sorry for them?

Is a deliberate no-ball any worse than a batsman not walking when he knows he has edged a ball? Or fielders trying to intimidate umpires into giving a decision they know is wrong with furiously bellowed appeals? Or bowlers picking at the seam of the ball to make it move more? Those actions cheat the paying spectators far more than the odd deliberate no-ball.

And why should players face life bans for taking money to throw a match, when the administrators of the game are making oodles from the sometimes less than upright decisions they make. As Malcolm Conn writes in The Australian today, it is far worse that umpires can be forced to stand down because players don't like them or that administrators who call for investigations into Zimbabwe Cricket's finances can be edged out. Administrators chase dollars without any thought for where the money has come from (in the case of the now jailed Allen Stanford) or what impact there will be on the global game (in the case of the Indian Premier League).

Indeed, one reason why Pakistani heads may have been turned is because so much money is being made elsewhere. The top players in the Indian Premier League earn £1 million for seven weeks' work; a Pakistani central contract is worth about £30,000 and their players are banned from competing in the IPL because of the poor diplomatic relationship with their neighbours.

The game stinks. It has always stank. Those involved in the present betting scandal should be banned for life if found guilty, but let us not pretend that their morals are any worse than those who run the game.


Homer said...

The reason this is an issue is because rules are broken.

Morally, your argument makes sense but morality is selective.

The ICC has specific rules in place in relation to match fixing. If those rules were violated, then there has to be punishment commensurate to the quantum of the violation.

The ICC has no rules specific to not walking and they have a system in place to assess umpires.

Unless you advocate anarchy, we have to stay within the rules. Or if the rules are outdated, change them.

But morality is no substitute for rules.


Midwicket said...

The no-balls are the tip of the iceberg, or the first visible lump of cancer.

Would you pay 60 pounds for a ticket, or would a TV network pay millions for broadcast rights if the matches are fixed?

And what good does it do to keep track of batting statistics or ICC rankings under these circumstances?

Did Stuart Broad really beat his father's highest score last weekend, or could Amir have bowled him out at will? Did England really even win the series, or was it just that Pakistan intentionally dropped enough catches to let them win?

I don't feel sorry for idiots who bet on sports minutiae (or even for disillusioned fans who had falsely projected moral strength on some individuals simply because of their cricketing achievements), but I already have a hard time explaining to people why it's worthwhile to sit through 5 days of cricket competition. If it turns out there's really no competition going on, the sport we love becomes just a waste of time.

I don't know whether these no-balls are morally any worse than, say, W.G. Grace refusing to walk when bowled, and I can understand the desire of Pakistani players to be paid at similar levels to their peers across the border in India, but these players made a decision that extra cash meant more to them than the integrity of the game or the honor of their country.

Anonymous said...

Well this is an emotive issue and can easily evoke a knee jerk reaction. It is however not merely a cricketing issue. I cannot imagine that any of the big money spinning sports are free of this scourge. On my blog on matchfixing and corruption in sport I discuss this very serious issue.

Anonymous said...

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