The 2011 World Cup was a roller-coaster of emotions for every Indian cricket fan, as the Men in Blue won the coveted trophy after 28 years in front of a delirious home crowd in Mumbai. A dream final, a fairy-tale finish and an apt conclusion to a well-contested tournament.
At least that was what the nation believed, and what was supposed to be. But there have emerged a few details following that triumph, which are enough to demoralise any self-respecting Indian cricket fan, or for that matter a global cricket enthusiast. Worryingly, there has hardly been any probe or investigation into these claims, which further puts into perspective the ICC’s sorry reputation as a lily-livered body.
Immediately after the second semi-final of the 2011 World Cup (between India and Pakistan at Mohali) ended, doubts and suspicions raised their ugly head. In probably the most-awaited game of the tournament, India won by 29 runs and booked a place in the final. But certain incidents and tactics left both fans and experts baffled. To begin with, Sachin Tendulkar was dropped as many as four times, as the little master made 85 – arguably his scratchiest half-century – before he was finally out. Caught. In reply to India’s 260, Pakistan got off to a decent start before wickets began to fall, usually in clusters of two wickets in quick succession.
In a strange move, Pakistan delayed the batting Powerplay till the last five overs, when only the tail-enders were left to support Misbah ul-Haq. Of course, we are no one to suggest tactics to an international team, but wouldn’t taking the Powerplay when Misbah and captain Shahid Afridi at the crease been a straightforwardly sensible option? Especially with the required run-rate soaring high, and given that the Indian attack was at best above-average? Instead, the middle-order played unusually slowly and ultimately failed to get themselves out of the rut.
Conspiracy theories were rife as soon as the semi-final ended. For those tending to consider things in a worst-case scenario, there were no dearth of reasons why the match was scripted. Some said that there was no way that the ICC could afford a non-India final, with the money at stake. Others said that it was a no-brainer that Pakistan were not going to enter the final against Sri Lanka, for the venue was Mumbai, and the Men in Green had not played in Mumbai since the late eighties due to political tensions. Therefore, to avoid a scenario of Pakistan lifting the cup at the Wankhede, the situation was nipped in the bud by stitching up the semi-final before the first ball was bowled. Surely, this was only guesswork and wild predictions. But in November 2012, an English betting-journalist substantiated these claims with a startling story. In his book, ‘Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy’, Ed Hawkins revealed that he received premature information of what was going to unfold in the game while watching the semifinal.
According to Hawkins, he received a tweet from a bookie who said – ‘‘Bookie update… India will bat first and score over 260, 3 wickets fall within the first 15 overs, pak will cruise to 100, then lose 2 quick wickets, at 150 they will be 5 down and crumble and lose by a margin of over 20 runs.’ When this message was received, India were 256/7. As it happened, they scored 260/9. Later in the chase, Pakistan were 103/2 when they indeed lost two quick wickets (Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan) to become 106/4. And again, by 150 they were five down (142/5), in fact, the sixth wicket fell with the score being 150. And as is known, India did actually win by a margin of over 20 runs – 29 to be precise. It is disturbing that the so-called Anti-Corruption bigwigs at the ICC have chosen to ignore such allegations, and are seeing no reason to even initiate a probe into the outcome of the match.
Then two days later came the final. Much before the match, messages were doing the rounds that ‘Sehwag will fall in the first over’ and ‘two youngsters will take India home’. Indeed, Sehwag got out for a second-ball duck and at least one ‘youngster’, Gautam Gambhir, steered India home. Just like Pakistan’s tactics in the semifinal, I remember myself being baffled by Sri Lanka’s decision to drop Ajantha Mendis from the playing eleven in the final. Muttiah Muralitharan (who played his last international) was not exactly 100% match-fit, and furthermore, Mendis was the best bowler on display in the semi-final against New Zealand, taking 3/35. Instead of him, a raw Suraj Randiv went on to play his first World Cup game. The reason given was that ‘Indians know how to play Mendis well’.
Also, even after India were 31/2, I recall having a feeling that no matter what, India are going to sail through with ease, perhaps because of the negative body language of the Sri Lankan fielders. Further, Lasith Malinga was taken off immediately after his twin strikes at the top. Earlier in the tournament, eerily similar scores of the India-Australia quarterfinal were ‘leaked’ a day before, while journalists received information that Chris Gayle will miss the game against India even before the official team news was broken.
In May 2011, Sports Illustrated India, a reputed magazine, claimed to blow the lid off the rampant fixing in the sub-continent. The magazine spent six months undercover with bookmakers and their agents and had handed over six hours of tapes to police and the International Cricket Council. In the magazine article, an anonymous Indian politician reveals how he and his associates made huge amounts betting on the World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan. The politician claims four Pakistan players were paid to under-perform and that two Indian players were involved in other fixes.
Perhaps the only positive note for cricket in the entire story was the revelation that Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi could not be bought. While no corrupt players are named, one bookmaker reveals an encounter where an Indian cricketer apologised for not delivering on a planned spot-fix, claiming he had been warned off by a BCCI official who came into the dressing-room. The magazine then quotes a BCCI official who confirmed that this player had been “watched carefully” during the second IPL season in South Africa.
If the ICC received such vital information, why haven’t they acted? The facts above show that bookmakers have a disturbingly large amount of control over world cricket. Why have these allegations been brushed under the carpet? Is it anything to do with India’s clout in the world of cricket, given that Sharad Pawar, a corrupt politician from India, was at the helm of the ICC during the World Cup? Why wasn’t there any media uproar when the World Cup allegations were revealed? These are questions to which we might never get the answers, for as fans, it is likely that we will be cheated time and again, and taken for granted. Yet, we will flock to the stadiums in the hope of witnessing a fair duel.
I can safely say that world cricket is going through its most troublesome phase at the moment. All might be hunky-dory according to the ICC, but with the amounts of money into the game, the unending rise of bookie power coupled with the at times direct terrorism nexus, it feels a bit sick to be a cricket fan nowadays, because those responsible for the game’s well-being might themselves be involved in unethical behaviour.
Let me add again that I am not pointing any finger at any team or player, for I am no one to do that. All I have mentioned are the worrisome facts, which are true and reasonable.
As fans, the best we can do is try our best in believing that all matches we witness are played fair and in the spirit of the game. Whatever happened to the ‘glorious uncertainties of the good old Gentlemen’s game?’