Sport of cricket rocked by match-fixing allegations
A man reads an evening newspaper with a headline in Urdu reading, "match-fixing scandal", at a news stand in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Published Sunday, August 29, 2010 3:58PM EDT
LONDON - It's just not cricket.
Renowned for sportsmanship, good manners and genteel history, the sport got some unwanted attention Sunday when a sting operation by a British newspaper ended with police interviewing three players from the Pakistan national team over allegations of match-fixing.
This isn't quite the Black Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, but the upshot is the same - a big-money sport followed by millions is plunged into scandal and self-analysis.
"Obviously, we are not delighted," Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed said. "Allegations are only one thing. They are all serious, whether they are small or big."
Cricket is the de facto national sport in Pakistan, India, Australia and elsewhere in the former British empire, where star players make millions and receive the same kind of treatment lavished on professional football or baseball players in the United States.
But the allegations in Sunday's edition of the News of the World tabloid put the spotlight squarely on Lord's, the 196-year-old stadium known as the home of cricket.
While there's been no suggestion that Pakistan conspired to lose its match against England, Scotland Yard police have questioned two players over allegations that they accepted money from gamblers to deliberately bowl (or throw) no-balls - an illegal delivery that is the equivalent of a pitcher's balk in baseball - at certain points during the match.
After all, bookmakers don't simply take bets on the results of matches. They offer odds on just about everything - the number of catches in a game, the amount of time it lasts and, in this case, when bowlers will be penalized by the umpire for a foul throw.
The infractions had no effect on Pakistan's worst ever five-day "Test," but the suggestion of conspiracy is still anathema to the blazer-wearing custodians of the sport at the Marylebone Cricket Club - the body that formulated its rules in 1787 and still operates out of Lord's.
"With these sorts of allegations," England captain Andrew Strauss said Sunday, "you start questioning things you shouldn't be questioning."
Sighs, grumbles and old-fashioned outrage were clearly heard rippling around sun-kissed Lord's as supporters found out that cricket had joined the more uncouth world of soccer in being hoodwinked by such a scam. The usual post-match trophy presentation was even held in a private function room instead of its customary position on the field to avoid any conflicts with fans.
The drama unfolded when the News of the World claimed to have secretly filmed undercover reporters, posing as front men for a East Asian gambling cartel, in discussion with a man it identified as London-based businessman Mazhar Majeed. He appears to accept US$232,000 in order to make sure no-balls are bowled at certain times during the match.
The tabloid quoted Majeed as saying up to seven Pakistan players could be "bought."
"I've been doing it with them for about 2 1/2 years and we've made masses of money," Majeed reportedly told the tabloid.
Video of the meeting was posted on the newspaper's website, and it appears to show the businessman accepting money and insisting that three no-balls "have been organized."
Majeed was arrested as authorities began to investigate the claims, after players Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir appeared to overstep the line from which they must bowl behind exactly when Majeed said they would. The infractions were so clear that TV commentators - former England captain Mike Atherton and former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja - both highlighted the oversteps.
This is hardly the first time that cricket has dealt with whispers of cheating and players collaborating with bookmakers, although many fans had hoped those days were over.
After rampant corruption in the 1980s and '90s, Pakistan captain Salim Malik and a teammate became the first players to be banned for match-fixing in 1999. The following year, South Africa captain Hanse Cronje and former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin were banned after a conspiracy in which Cronje admitted to forecasting results in exchange for money from a London bookmaker.
The ICC created its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit in response to the incidents.
Headed by a former Metropolitan Police chief, its investigations have done much to stamp out wrongdoing, although some prominent players have said recently that corruption again could be surfacing after a decade of cleaner competition.
West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels was banned for two years in 2008 over allegations he passed on information to a bookmaker. And two players from English club Essex, Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield, were arrested this year after an investigation of betting irregularities.
"More recently," Strauss said, "there have been more whispers."