BANGALORE: The disgraceful scenes from the United Arab Emirates in the Ajman All Stars League, currently being investigated by the International Cricket Council (ICC), should surprise no one. Twenty20 cricket has been a great vehicle for cricket to expand its horizons, but the mushrooming of private leagues around the world — most of them conducted without any official approval, as the Ajman tournament was — has made them the prime focus for the twin scourges of spot-fixing and its big brother, match-fixing.
Despite the hype, the reality is that the vast majority of such tournaments haemorrhage money. Cricket South Africa’s embarrassing failure to get its Global Cricket League off the runway earlier this season was a stark reminder of that. Even most Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, with the gargantuan weight of cricket’s biggest ecosystem behind them, took several years to break even.
When the anti-corruption units, both the ICC’s and those run by individual boards, are not in the fray, unsavoury elements are noticeable at matches.
In December 2007, while India and Pakistan were playing a Test series — the last between the two sides before political relations took a turn for the worse — the Indian Cricket League (ICL) began with much fanfare. It was bankrolled by Zee TV, whose relations with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had soured over what it deemed the arbitrary termination of its rights to telecast India’s overseas matches.
The ICL was doomed from the start. Lalit Modi was putting together the IPL, and there was no way the Indian board was going to countenance a rival competition in its backyard. Indian players on the fringes did sign up, but the foreign contingent mainly comprised those on Retirement Avenue, looking out for one last lucrative payday.
Soon after it began, a friend tipped me off about a pub in the heart of Delhi. There, you could make every kind of bet possible, from the number of no-balls bowled in an innings, to how many runs would be scored off the third ball of the eighth over. When people think fixing, they often picture players tanking games. The reality is far more nuanced.
In the IPL spot-fixing case of 2013, the wagers were apparently over the minimum number of runs that would be scored in a certain over.
“Most of these leagues are all about fixing,” said Michael Holding, the West Indies cricket legend who refuses to even commentate on the games.
“Look through the numbers and see how much money they lose each year. You think the team owners are running charitable trusts?”
Holding’s views were supported by Australia’s Dirk Nannes in an interview with ABC Grandstand.
“The owners weren’t allowed on the ground, but there would be a team manager going to the owner and saying, ‘What are we doing next’, then going to the coach,” he said about his time in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). “The security guys were saying enough was enough. But it just kept going on. The owners were sitting there on the phone. The owners were demanding that they be in constant touch with the coach because that’s why they bought the team.”
The Ajman case was fixing at its worst, almost a spoof version, so ham-handed were the performances. But those expressing outrage over it would do well to examine the bigger tournaments. From the IPL downwards, no tournament is safe.