By Akash Kaware
Freedom of speech and expression is a privilege that constitutions of most of the civilised countries grant to their people. It is something that should be treasured as a gift. Yet, very often it is taken for granted. Worse, it is often abused. Vinod Kambli’s recent outburst on an Indian TV channel about the 1996 World Cup semi-final is yet another example of this sad truth. This is not the first time someone has made damaging allegations about a game without a shred of evidence. And considering the times we live in, it is unlikely to be the last.
Kambli’s allegations come close to the heels of Paul Condon’s recent statement that match-fixing was ‘rampant’ in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Not so long ago, Hashan Tillakaratne, the former Sri Lankan batsman, made waves saying that the Sri Lankan team was neck-deep into this sordid business. All these claims have one thing in common - none of them have been backed up with any sort of proof.
There have been enough scandals in cricket for even the most naïve fan to realise that cricketers are no saints. Hansie Cronje’s midnight phone call to Ali Bacher saying he had not been ‘entirely honest’ in his denial of the wrongdoings that were reported by the Delhi Police shook the very foundations of the gentlemen’s game. But the game recovered. The game will withstand the recent the spot-fixing convictions of Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer too, just as it withstood the King Commission, the Chandrachud Report and the Qayyum Report. It is in the game’s interest to be wary. Vigilance is the price the game has to pay for its popularity and money-spinning abilities. But when every player who is coming out with a book, every player with a score to settle with someone and especially people who were once in-charge of guarding the game like Paul Condon start pointing fingers at others without so much as an iota of evidence, that invisible line between freedom of speech and its abuse is crossed.
The funny thing about such allegations is the amount of time each of these so-called whistle-blowers - shall we call them alligators? – took to come out with them. After a small matter of 15 years, Kambli suddenly remembered the salient details of what happened before, during and on the eve of that ill-fated semi-final. Tillakaratne did not even bother to mention one or two players, he painted the entire Sri Lankan team, past and present, with the same brush. And I would like to ask Lord Paul Condon, if all teams were at some point of time involved in ‘funny stuff’, why wasn’t at least some retroactive action taken to bring those guilty to justice when he headed cricket’s crusade against corruption? It would be too much to expect the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) to be proactive, but surely they must be quite good at being reactive by now?
And pray, when they decide to finally spill the beans, why do these noble men always run to the nearest media house? Surely, if they are serious about seeing the guilty punished, they could approach the ICC, the ACSU, the cricket boards of their countries or even the police?
I realise that times have changed. The phrase ‘it’s not cricket' long ceased to have any connections to unfair conduct. There is enough evidence to show that fixing – match or spot – is very real. But I refuse to believe that every game that ended in an upset, actually achieved exactly the result that the players were trying to achieve. I refuse to believe that every victory snatched by someone from the jaws of defeat was actually a victory spat out by someone else in order to swallow defeat and fat wads of cash. I refuse to believe that what we all have come to know as the glorious uncertainties of the game are nothing more than playacting.
I just hope that Vinod Kambli, Lord Paul Condon and Hashan Tillakaratne don’t think of themselves as whistle-blowers. Unless they offer proof of what they are saying, they are nothing more than rabble-rousers, who are doing grave disservice to the game they profess to love. And if I were any of them, I would keep a lawyer’s telephone number handy.
(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would've been a successful international cricketer if it hadn't been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)