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Saturday, May 18, 2013

FIXING CRICKET: THE SPORT TURNED SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT



Hello World,
Some days back, I visited one of my friends and got to watch an IPL cricket match on the television.  A lot of things flashed through my mind as I watched the barrage of intentional half-volleys hurled at batsmen who repeatedly cleared the boundaries that alarmingly fit in one view covering the batsman and the wicketkeeper. So here’s my perspective on how a fine team sport got transformed into a flashy form of sports entertainment. Click here to download the pdf version of this post.

Match Fixing, Spread Fixing, Spot Fixing are just a few famous terms that frequently appear on the media, quite surprisingly, just prior to a series of high scoring history-setting cricket matches. My opinion stands that the betting racket is a widespread black-market business and it has penetrated the organized official versions of cricket. Every time some fixing news leaks, the media creates a buzz and then all of a sudden the reports vanish and we are offered the best of cricket matches immediately. The public’s media memory is always short lived and it has been leveraged for all what it is worth.

What specifically
Let me begin with the eye-opener incident that questioned my faith in the televised versions of cricket. It was 2001 and South Africa was touring India. The Delhi Police attempted to tape the phone calls of suspects involved in a possible criminal case and ended up hearing the then South African cricket team’s captain Hansie Cronje conversing on topics that would otherwise violate the law or at least the policies as laid out by the ICC. Further investigation led the Delhi police to identify the existence of a huge betting racket running right under their noses, that has grown big enough to contact international players with offers of money in exchange for a wide array of help that would include but not limited to fixed match results, information on playing conditions, bowling and batting orders and so on.
Find below the media coverage of this incident before you read any further:

Here are the links for the same videos:

We are here primarily to discuss the opportunities available in the cricket scene for betting and the subsequent fixing of elements of the game to facilitate and control the betting business model. So we would discuss on how betting works and how it causes fixing in the games. We would be questioning the circumstantial elements involved in famous betting/fixing events that had happened in the past and attempt to look into the reasons. I strongly believe, a clear idea of the intention behind any act can lead us to the possible reasons or motivations. Again, fixing does not necessarily mean “fixing the outcome of the game.” Let’s roll.

Cine Crime in Cricket
Right after the New Delhi match-fixing incident, Hansie Cronje denied all the allegations and stood by his denial of all charges thrown at him. Unfortunately, it did not last very long. A detailed investigation later on found evidences against Hansie Cronje and he confessed. Things turned out in ways nobody expected. He just accepted his willfully committed mistakes and explained all such incidents and his actions. Mysteriously, he got killed in a plane crash. The circumstances as alleged indicate that his scheduled flight from Johannesburg to George was grounded and he had to travel as the only passenger on a turboprop aircraft (cargo flight) that had malfunctioning navigational equipment which led to the aircraft’s crash to the Outeniqua Mountain located to the north of George. Now checking the systems prior to take-off is very important and therefore the checklist formalities in aviation industry is very elaborate and time consuming. It is true that pilots and mechanics tend to skip the checks that are often conceived as a trivial or “it-cannot-fail-so-soon” situation but they would never do it to an extent of risking their or passengers’ lives. In case of navigational equipment in an aircraft, during an emergency, whenever two pilots are involved, one calls for the check and the other responds by executing the check. Usually it is the Pilot Flying (PF) who would call for the check/setting and the Pilot Not Flying (PNF) would respond by adjusting the setting of the navigational equipment to the desired mode/level as called for by the Pilot Flying. There is a specific element of this check where the PF would call for the setting-up of lateral and vertical navigation limits (LNAV/VNAV) where the PNF, based on the terrain information would set the safe-altitude and so on. The procedure seems “too-careful” and “why-so-serious” type but this is what makes the flight safe and comfortable for the pilots, crew and the passengers. 
Now the safe-altitude is just among other information that the pilots are provided with prior to the flight. The pilots are trained to handle emergency situations too. If the pilots of the Hawker Siddeley HS 748 lost visibility due to bad weather, they very well knew how to move out of the bad weather and land accordingly. Sometimes pilots just circle around following guidelines from the Air Traffic Control (ATC). Also, in case of bad weather, the ATC informs the pilots so they can take necessary counter-measures. In this case of plane crash, the pilots lost visibility and were circling around when they encountered malfunctioning navigational equipment which mysteriously led them to crash in the mountains. With malfunctioning equipment, circling would not have been possible as that would not have been the obvious choice. You need to know where you are and where you are headed before you start circling around looking for a good time and route. In bad weather, pilots usually move out into clear skies and then look for alternative routes with ATC in radio-contact. So why would trained pilots circle around in low-visibility with faulty navigational equipment? The black-box data and the ATC comm-log need to be published for clarity. If there had been an international aviation regulation that calls for the public release of such data after such an accident, the public can learn about the actual cause of the accident. The official investigation ended up declaring it as a “Pilot Error (Act of Omission)” which led to the accident that resulted in the death of Hansie Cronje and the two pilots. This is more than Bollywood cinema. A tainted sportsman who confessed and gave out names and details of his involvement in malpractice hitches a ride on a cargo flight, when the pilots choose to circle around in low visibility in spite of faulty equipment and plane crashes into the mountains killing them all. This beats a traditional “dead-hero-comes-alive” movie script. It is true that we are working here with alleged information but more than the information, it is the construct and composition that raises the questions…..”What are the chances for this to happen?” and “Why would this happen to Hansie Cronje right after he confessed and divulged sensitive information?”  The mystery remains….
This incident did shock me to the core as I was a serious cricket fan. I remember my dad asking me to bunk school, only to watch the Indian cricket team play. Watching cricket on TV was so important to me and my dad at that time. After the match-fixing scandal broke out, we were devastated and angry over the players who were caught and penalized. But as the events turned out, my attention grew in a specific direction.
Right after Hansie Cronje’s confession and death, the media, especially the television channels went crazy over Hansie’s involvement in fixing and broadcasted videos of him and his team mates tampering with the ball. The media took a stand on Hansie as if he had always been a corrupt cricketer who kept low profile all the while. Now televised cricket dates long back compared to the times of the Hansie Cronje incident. That means there are not minutes or hours but years of cricketing video to analyze for possible malpractice on the field. How the hell did the media only find Hansie’s videos of ball tampering from the archives? More importantly, …If a cameraman catches a player red-handed in an act of malice/misconduct, zooms in to capture the player in the act right during match, why was that not looked-into at the very moment, or later on after the match for further disciplinary action against the player/team/management?

 With more than a dozen cameras around a cricket field, there must be a centralized control for monitoring all cameras and the broadcast of footages based on the media requirements. So the cameraman shot the player tampering with the ball, zoomed in but said nothing, the controller kept it from being broadcast, the officiating authorities neglected to review it and the ICC did nothing to investigate and even the news of such an act never made it out into public domain. But right after the concerned player’s filmy death in a plane-crash, the exact footage of the player engaging in ball tampering comes out in flying colors accompanied by media scrutiny. With all due respect to the media and cricketing authorities all over the world, ….Do you really think the public is so dumb that nobody would realize the background of these media manipulations????!!?!!?? What happened was a special case of paid advertisement, the subject of which was the negative publicity targeted at Hansie Cronje, who at that time was not even alive to respond to.
It doesn’t end here, unfortunately.
On 18th March, 2007, the then Pakistan cricket team’s Head Coach, Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room. This incident happened right after Pakistan’s elimination from the world cup after losing to Ireland. Dr. Ere Seshaiah, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Bob Woolmer’s body recorded his findings and released it, claiming that Bob Woolmer died from “Asphyxia via Manual Strangulation” and “Cypermethrin Poisoning.” Surprisingly, these terms did not make it to the media very loud. The initial reports said that the Jamaican police have registered a case and are looking into possible murder investigation. The possibilities of poisoning and strangulation did not stay long on air. Out of the blue three independent pathologists were commissioned by the police. The expert analysis and findings of the independent pathologists ruled out death due to poisoning and strangulation and declared that the death was due to natural causes. The natural causes were never released, defined or explained in any of the official statements. At least the media did not care to get the specifics of the natural causes, given that the media often shows great interest in the specifics of scandalous actresses and page-3 parties. Let’s get this straight. A man died, the pathologist who did the autopsy specifically mentioned his findings and cause of death, 3 independent pathologists were commissioned, they ruled out the initial findings of the pathologist but NEVER MENTIONED THE SPECIFIC TERMS for the cause of death of the man. There may be circumstances where in certain cases, the signs and symptoms of death vanish due to their volatile nature. Certain poisons just vaporize from the body leaving no traces and dead flesh decomposes which may also result of loss of evidence related to the cause of death. But at least that has to be mentioned in the official report released to the media. Calling “NATURAL CAUSES THAT LEAD TO CARDIAC ARREST” just out of the blue without mentioning the specifics is intentional with the intentions remaining unexplained.
Dr. Ere Seshaiah was the Chief Consultant Forensic Pathologist and Director of Legal Medicine Unit in the Ministry of Jamaica in the West Indies when he performed the autopsy on Bob Woolmer’s body. He did his MBBS (the basic medical degree in general medicine, here in India), MD in Forensic Medicine and worked as assistant professor of Forensic Medicine until 1993 before accepting the offer to serve as the Chief Consulting Forensic Pathologist and Director of Legal Medicine Unit in the Ministry of Jamaica. Now the Jamaican police commissioned three independent pathologists to re-verify the analysis, findings and conclusions of this man, Dr. Ere Seshaiah, whose illustrious career until before the Bob Woolmer murder case was solely responsible for him to be chosen for the position and the task of performing the autopsy on Bob Woolmer’s body in the first place. This can never happen unless there was an order from the superiors of the authorities who headed the Bob Woolmer murder investigation. Why would they do such thing? How can a specialist go wrong in his analysis and findings? An autopsy report cannot just have the cause of death and the signature of the pathologist. He/She has to analyze the body, look for signs and symptoms, document them appropriately and then based on the documented findings arrive at the cause of death.
Here’s anarticle made available by the University of West Indies at Mona, Jamaica that has a brief mentions of Asphyxia and its classification from the forensic standpoint. Click here to download the document. As per this document, that I presume is for educational/research purposes, the definition of Asphyxia are:

“Asphyxia is defined as hypoxia/anoxia that is caused when respiratory function is hampered by interference with the mechanics of breathing.” 

Also, as per the document, the different classification schemes for asphyxia are:
1.       Suffocation                                        
2.       Smothering                       
3.       Choking                                               
4.       Strangulation (as mentioned by Dr. Seshaiah)
5.       Hanging                               
6.       Drowning
7.       Crush (Traumatic) asphyxia

The forensic pathologist, Dr. Ere Seshaiah had documented his findings and concluded on a specific cause of death namely “Asphyxia due to manual strangulation.”  How can the experienced forensic pathologist go wrong with the conclusion or cause of death? Even by the remotest of chances, if Dr. Seshaiah was actually wrong on the cause of death, the postmortem findings as documented need to be clarified as they have been identified as the signs of death. So the media gave us an initial report that was specific but turned out to be wrong/erroneous but the subsequent expert reports did nothing but nullify the initial report and close the file with a blunt “natural cause” as the reason. For this joke of an investigation, Scotland Yard worked together with the Jamaican police.

Did ICC (International Cricket Council) start any internal probe? Mainly because the official coach of a participating team was found dead in the premises of the facility organized/rented by the World Cup organizers for the safe and comfortable stay of the participants. If a legally legit organization is organizing an international event where a participant dies, is it not the responsibility of the organizers to probe in its own domain and release the information on the circumstances during which the death might have taken place? Even if such a thing has happened, why has it not been publicized by the ICC? Its name is tarnished anyways. At least scientifically identifying the cause of death and releasing the information to the public would be an act of courtesy towards the dead man. Bob Woolmer is now dead and he died out of natural causes (that nobody knows of) under mysterious circumstances. What a way to pay someone back for his life-long contribution to cricket.

There were a few mentions of Bob Woolmer writing a book where he was alleged to have revealed match-fixing scams he had seen during his days. It is hard to know if such a thing would have happened but it has to be mentioned that he was the one who spoke to Cronje over an earpiece that Hansie carried into the field during a match in 1999. So I am sure Bob Woolmer knew more about match fixing even before he joined the Pakistan team as coach. He even speaks of knowing it in the interviews marked above (the YouTube videos). Pakistan team too was under the scanner for various fixing allegations during the time of Bob Woolmer’s death.


Sting Operations that Stink
Recent media-led sting operations had a lot of cricketers accepting to under-perform, or rather “perform in specific terms” for a financial favor. At first these were shocking to watch but later on we just got used to it because the sting operations did nothing but raise the news channels’ TRP. But there is a pattern in which such events are handled. Every time someone gets caught, the media just riddles the individuals with accusations and does not question the credibility of the governing body that is responsible for the sport’s administration. The news channels do the probing but the channels that actually telecast the various forms of cricket do nothing to add to the fixing stories or scandals. That is because they don’t want their broadcasting rights to be cancelled. Again, this is the indicator of the big brother’s hand over the media. The telecasting channels are friendly media and the news channels that do the sting operations are the mosquitoes that BCCI and ICC has to bear with.

Fixing the Elements
Fixing does not always mean fixing the outcome of the game. A player not hitting a century, fall of wickets within a certain number of overs, no-ball/wide in an over are just some of the elements of the game that can be fixed. These are the specific spots that are often betted on. Since the betting racket has grown, billions of dollars change hands during any given series involving a huge number of individuals spread across the world. Now when the money gets bigger, the betting organizers get motivated to influence the game in such a way that the most favored outcome doesn’t happen so that the house makes more money than the players in the betting game. This is where bookies contact captains, coaches and individual players with offers of gifts for specific acts during the game.

A no-ball in the second over of the game is not a crime as big as a murder, to the bowler who agrees to bowl a no-ball in exchange for money. A batsman choosing to get out quickly is not a big deal either. Things like these do not usually impact the match result but the fact remains that the cricket broadcasted is not real in every sense. In case of a fixed outcome of the game, more number of players would agree to perform in specific terms to ensure the fixed result in exchange for a financial favor. The players are professionals and professionals respond to remuneration for their professional services. If someone is going to offer a huge amount of money for a simple task as a deliberate no-ball, then a bowler would do it. The amount of money may vary from bowler to bowler. Very few players may be out there, not willing to be part of the fixing scene and expecting to be out of the team anytime. When the entry into a team requires money and recommendation, the entrant is bound to make an effort to recover his/her entry fee. Just my thought.

The Reality
The televised forms of cricket are nothing but a modern form of sports entertainment that have very little reality. It does engage the audience and entertain them but not in the realistic sense. Be it Hansie Cronje or Sreesanth, players have always been working with bookies over the years. These guys are just unlucky to be trapped by the media. Some of them just run out of luck and pay with their life. There are a whole bunch of players who have completed their careers, earning more out of spot-fixing than their actual player salaries. Even today there are so many players out there who agree to do specific tasks in exchange for money. This won’t hurt anyone, if it is clearly mentioned that the Test matches, One Day Internationals and IPL games that are broadcasted are actually SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT and not actual sporting events. I mean, World Wrestling Federation once broadcasted by Star Sports was a huge hit. Kids were fighting in the backyard trying to imitate the wrestlers. I know for I was one among them. Undertaker is still my favorite wrestler and when I was a kid I used to believe he came back from the dead. Today’s televised forms of cricket are the same, offering a different variety of sports entertainment.

Sports Entertainment is not bad at all. We need entertainment. We just don’t need to be fooled into watching Pre-Designed Cricket Drama claiming them to be honest sporting events. Does betting happen everywhere? Yes it does. Do the bookies fix elements of the game with the players? Yes they do. How frequently? More frequently than we would imagine it is.

Do you notice that the worst teams in the past seasons of the IPL are shining like a star in this season?

Do you feel weird when all the bowlers are bowling half-volleys outside the stumps in IPL?

Do you tend to think about record-setting high-scoring games right after every match-fixing scandal?  

Hurray!!! You just realized you are watching Cricketing Drama. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. You love cricket and you have every right to watch it. How do we handle this thing? Watch the cricket matches without believing them as you would watch a movie or a sitcom.

Please remember that every game you watch can have someone bought, threatened or even killed in the background……..All for the silly 2-second attention you would give to the advertisements during the broadcast of the game. Bob Woolmer and Hansie Cronje were famous and we could know about them. I am sure there have been many who sacrificed their lives so you could host your friends to a great evening of cricketing action with snacks. Many have lost their reputation only because they wanted to help you make more money on a no-ball or six from your favorite player. They did have financial motivations of their own but it was a mutual feeling you see. 

It is time we digest the fact that the cricket on television is a sport turned sports entertainment without the steel cage or ladder matches but sadly with occasional spills of original blood. 

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 Regards,

2 comments:

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