Justice Mukul Mudgal (Image CNN-IBN)
Even before the newly expanded Supreme Court's Justice Mudgal Probe Committee gets down to business comes the disturbing news that two players in the ongoing IPL 7 were approached by bookies to throw a match, according to Mr. Sunil Gavaskar who is appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the tournament this year. If the reported news that a former renowned cricketer of defunct Indian Cricket League, possibly Chris Cairns from New Zealand, had approached Brendon McCullum in 2008 with an offer from the betting syndicate for match-fixing is correct, it is even more disturbing.
This only shows despite security measures such as appointment of Integrity Officers accompanying each IPL Franchise and throwing a security ring around the players, the malaise of betting and fixing matches internationally is still alive and trying to get a foothold into the system like a virus.
It only underscores the importance of the reconstituted Probe Committee to come out with truth regarding the alleged match-fixing in IPL in 2013. Understanding the gravity of match-fixing and the need to curb such practice, if any, the court bolstered the committee with a group of investigators headed by senior IPS officer BB Mishra. The panel has been entrusted with powers to probe, search and seize relevant documents and record evidence.
The focus of the committee will be on the 13 names mentioned in the Mudgal Committee report which submitted to Supreme Court, requesting for further probe on their role in the match between Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) in 2013.
This has cleared the way for a systematic probe to arrive at a logical conclusion of an alleged diabolical act in last year's IPL match.
It is historic and sadly ironic that perhaps for the first time in cricket's history, the president of a cricket board is being investigated by the highest court in the country through a committee appointed by it on charges of match- and spot-fixing.
While one awaits the report of the Mudgal Committee by end of August, it will be interesting to see how other countries handled such sensitive issues in the past. Cricket boards have taken very serious view of match- or spot- fixing by players in collusion with bookies and have ensured it is never repeated again by adopting very stern measures.
Take South Africa, for instance, which had Justice EL King's Inquiry Commission in June 2000 to inquire into their cricket captain Hansie Cronje's episode of match-fixing in India. Based on strong evidence, it found him guilty by the end of the month. The Commission conducted a public hearing bringing into open the match-fixing nexus between the player and a bookie. An inconsolable and distraught Cronje admitted to his guilt in the court and was banned for life from playing cricket. By conducting the trial in public, South Africa ensured it would act as a deterrent to any player thinking of throwing a match or indulge in fixing in future.
In England due to the efforts of media, ECB and the Scotland Yard, three Pakistan cricketers - then captain Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir - were found guilty of spot-fixing in the Lord's Test of 2010 after taking money from a bookie. Apart from ban by ICC, the London Police filed criminal case against the cricketers and the convicted players were sent to jail. The fact that players were sent to jail will again act as a strong deterrent for anyone to think on those lines in future.
In India the CBI did uncover the betting scandal in 2000 and quite a few cricketers were found guilty. Since the inquiry was done 'in camera', the public never got to know all the details. The inquiry was also not comprehensive. According to CBI's own admission, there were many bookies connected with the underworld in the country that needed to be brought to book, especially in Mumbai. CBI had warned BCCI at that time that betting, if left unchecked, could grow into a monster. In fact, it said, "The underworld mafia has started taking interest in the betting racket and can be expected to take overall control of this activity, if not checked immediately with a firm hand." Sadly BCCI did nothing to stem the rot. Had the inquiry been held in the open as in South Africa, the public humiliation would have acted as a deterrent for future crimes. Sadly that was not done. The lackadaisical attitude BCCI exhibited all along has resulted in underworld taking a stronghold on betting. The enormous money floating around in IPL has emboldened bookies and their likes to seek a good part of the financial pie.
It is a golden opportunity for the Mudgal Committee to root out corruption from Indian cricket, if there is evidence to support the charges that players and officials were involved in betting and spot-fixing.
The Supreme Court has been rightly sensitive to the question of innocent cricketers unnecessarily be dragged into questioning and has often expressed its desire to keep their reputation intact. However, should there be concrete evidence against any individual, whosoever the person may be, in the interest of the spirit of the game he should be thoroughly investigated and the law must be allowed to take its course. The game is bigger than any individual or any institution and it can only be kept alive by removing any negative influences that will harm in the long run.
Both South Africa and England have demonstrated their intention to keep the game clean by their stern follow-up actions.
The Mudgal Committee has already showed its intention to clean up cricket administration in the country by naming the president of the board among the persons to be probed. The Committee should show that it places the game and the cricket fan above anything else and will not hesitate to recommend punishment to the guilty.