Cricket’s spot-fixing scandal and its unprecedented jail terms have battered the sport’s credibility, but experts say the case will eventually benefit what was once known as the gentlemen’s game.
The sentences handed out to three Pakistan players — Salman Butt, Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif — and their agent Mazhar Majeed for spot-fixing during last year’s Lord’s Test against England have stunned the cricket world, but India’s World Cup-winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said he had no sympathy for fixers.
“It’s the worst thing you can do while representing your country,” Dhoni said.
It is not the first time that the cricket world has been rocked by scandal. In 2000, match-fixing led to life bans for Test captains Hansie Cronje (South Africa), Mohammed Azharuddin (India) and Salim Malik (Pakistan), but cricketers had never previously been sent to jail for corrupt practices — something that could make players think twice before they do deals with shady bookmakers.
Popular cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle said the scandal would serve as a wake-up call for players, administrators and fans.
“I fear this might lead to more cynicism, a greater feeling that games, or moments, are fixed,” Bhogle said. “It may be a bad day for Butt and company, but it may not be such a bad day for cricket. Cricketers can now see what may happen.”
Cricket’s dark underbelly, plagued by underworld match-fixing gangs who reportedly bet millions of dollars on virtually every match, remains a constant threat to the sport.
Indian police regularly bust betting rings across the country when cricket internationals are being played, but offenders often get off lightly.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation gave a prescient warning about the underworld’s links with cricket when it probed the match-fixing scandal in 2000.
“During the inquiry, it was learnt that the lure of easy money has gradually attracted the underworld into this racket,” its report said. “It seems that it is only a matter of time before major organized gangs take direct control of this racket, a phenomenon that will have implications not only for cricket, but for national security as a whole.”