The curtains have gone up to the Cricket World Cup with Australia and New Zealand co-hosting the quadrennial extravaganza. Over the next six weeks, the eyes of estimated 2.5 billion cricket fans around the world will be riveted to the game of 22 yards. It promises to be an absorbing tourment, as one-day cricket takes centre stage again. Will South Africa filly throw off their ‘chokers’ tag and grab the World Cup? Or will New Zealand live up to their billing as the dark horse to watch out for, ambushing other teams right and left? What are the odds of defending champion India pulling it off again? Such are the questions uppermost in the minds of cricket aficiodos. But one question needs asking for the good of the game. Will this be a clean World Cup, free from the long shadow of betting syndicates and the underworld? Kudos to Australia and New Zealand for taking this question so seriously that both have ected tough laws to keep out crimil and corrupt elements. Apart from elaborate security measures to thwart terrorist strikes, the organisers have promised to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in neutralising gamblers and fixers. Such is the dark side of this once noble game.
Meanwhile the Intertiol Cricket Council’s (ICC) anti-corruption and security unit has already identified the latest threat to the game’s integrity, already damaged by match-fixing and spot-fixing. It is called ‘pitchsiding’, by which fans attending matches try to take advantage of the miniscule time lag up to 15 seconds — between action on the ground and its live telecast on TV, so as to place quickie bets or pass on information to bookies. World Cup organisers have meanwhile assured to minimise the ‘sickness’ of fixing. After all, organised crime syndicates have long been involved in fixing entire matches where big money is involved. Spot fixing is comparatively easier, since only a particular event needs be fixed in advance like a no ball, a wide, giving a catch, or conceding a certain number of runs in an over. Bookies and satta bazaars have thus become involved in spot fixing on a large scale. Cricketers are more vulnerable to attempts to corrupt them. Long hailed as a game of glorious uncertainties, cricket can ill afford such cynical liberties with its image. ICC’s promise of making the this edition of Cricket World Cup sledging-free needs to be welcomed too, since disrespect to players cannot make cricket a gentleman’s game.
For the last three years, law enforcement agencies of the two host countries along with ICC’s anti-corruption unit have been identifying ‘corrupters’ involved in match or spot fixing and illegal betting — to keep them out of venues. Betting markets all over the world are being monitored to spot suspicious activity or unusual spikes in betting patterns. Close tabs are being kept on social media to keep track of suspects. Cricketers are being warned through education programmes to avoid contacts with bookies and be wary of honey traps to blackmail them. Even players banned for fixing have been pressed into service to give participant cricketers the stern message: ‘please don’t succumb’. Hotels where teams have been put up, as well as venues and training grounds are under 24-hour tight surveillance. Meanwhile in India where betting is illegal, Mumbai police has taken the lead in cracking down on bookies, hawala operators and mafia circles. In May 2013, it was the Mumbai police that had busted the cash-rich IPL betting syndicate, putting the BCCI on the dock and forcing the Supreme Court to intervene. There can be no compromise with the drive to clean up cricket. The World Cup 2015 co-hosts deserve all support for keeping up this momentum in the intertiol field.