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Why should the two Ws go free?

THE South African revelations have left people feeling cheated. After reading what Herschelle Gibbs, Pieter Strydom and Henry Williams told the commission of inquiry, one has a feeling of being taken for a nice, long ride. Gibbs was one of those bright, new talents in the South African team. I doubt we will ever see him in action again. If anybody felt anything like sympathy for Hansie Cronje, then it would all have turned to disgust for the former captain has been revealed as a cynical manipulator.

The details of the confessions are up around the Net and it is not my intention to repeat them here. You, gentle reader, would have had your fill of them. No, this piece intends to look at the two weather reporters and ask: Why, in the light of the South African inquiry findings so far, do they not merit more punishment?

Gibbs agreed to take a bribe. But he did not keep the agreement. He never got any money. He is as guilty as hell and should never see the inside of a dressing room again. Gibbs also denied that he had done anything wrong until he was told that he might well end up in jail. He then confessed.

Shane Warne and Mark Waugh took money from a bookmaker. They sold him information which could well have been used by the bookie to further his own shady ends. They kept quiet about it. The Australian manager got wind of the fact that there was something going on and called the pair in for a quiet session of questioning. They told him what had happened, he told the board and fines were doled out. The matter remained under wraps for four years until a journalist started inquiring about it. The board then came clean. Waugh and Warne put on a show of shamefaced arrogance for the media cameras.

So what's the big difference? I can hear the Australian defence brigade shouting, "but they turned down an offer from Salim Malik to fix a match." Sure, they did. Gibbs got five out of a 100, the two Ws got 49. The pass mark was 50. All of them failed. How do we know whether the Indian bookie who gave Waugh and Warne money which they gleefully accepted used the information to rake in profits himself? You sell information to a bookie, you have committed a heinous crime. And you should be punished, period. You should not try to claim, in wide-eyed innocence, that you were unaware of the ramifications of what you did. Such claims ring even more hollow in view of the fact that one of the Ws is deeply into racing. No kid who lives in Australia is ignorant about gambling or bookmakers; every little shopping centre has its own legal betting centre.

Look at it this way: would people like Waugh and Warne, who make hundreds of thousands by endorsing this product and that (Warne got $200,000 from an Australian maker of anti-smoking tablets and violated the agreement he had made at least twice; he did not give up smoking in the end either) have endangered their careers by taking small amounts as they claimed they had? Or would they have played for higher stakes? If someone is still trying to say that they did not know how dangerous it was to give information to a bookie, then I am the Pope. Or Jerry Seinfeld.

And remember: the same argument is being advanced in Cronje's case. The board and others, runs this train of reasoning, should have suspected that Cronje was in deeper than he confessed to being, simply because of the amounts of money he claimed to have taken. Logical, make no mistake about that. Would a man have come out and confessed to something which he knew would earn him cricketing disgrace and banishment unless he had already salted away a fair amount from his illegal ventures? Does that sound like a logical argument? Then why doesn't it sound logical when applied to Waugh and Warne?

The ICC's recent decision to ban cricketers for life if they are found to be involved in match-fixing or allied activities will no doubt take effect in the Gibbs case. Even if the ICC wants to soft-pedal and indulge in semantics, I am pretty sure that the South African board will never pick him again. Ali Bacher is angry at having been made to look like a fool. And Bacher is Mr Powerful in South African cricket and no mean leader either; he was one man who could effectively captain a team which included the likes of Graeme and Peter Pollock, Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow, Trevor Goddard and Mike Proctor.

But then, from a legal point of view, Gibbs's actions took place long before the law came into effect. Same argument that the Australians are using for the two Ws -- the incident happened before the law came into effect. Why should Gibbs have to be judged differently? In fact, the new law should apply only to those offences committed after it took effect. If the boards concerned want to ban cricketers, it is their business. But the ICC law -- is it meant to take effect retrospectively or not? If the answer is yes, then it has to apply to all cases of match-fixing and allied activities. Else, it should apply only to those who have indulged in any hanky-panky after June this year.

I think the Australian board is fudging. Every effort is being made to keep the names of Waugh and Warne off the menu. The news from South Africa has dwarfed everything else so it is easy to hide. Malik made some allegations about Australia fixing a one-day tie, but in this kind of situation perverse logic can be employed -- he has been proved to be a crook, therefore nothing he says has any value. Period. By the same reasoning, we should not believe Gibbs. Or Williams. Or Cronje. Not even when they incriminate themselves. The big question is: When can they be considered to be telling the truth?

The report of the inquiry conducted by Australia has still not been fully revealed. The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman General Tauqir Zia asked for the confidential section of the O'Regan report to be made public. The Australian Cricket Board's response? "The section dealt with hearsay comments which have no supporting evidence. The ICC panel of independent lawyers has apparently seen the section and agreed it should remain confidential. In the current climate where accusations and counter-accusations are flying around we have to be very careful about releasing mere hearsay.'' That's the Board spokesman Brendan McArdle, as quoted in the Melbourne daily, The Age.

One could argue that Pat Symcox has been indulging in some hearsay as well. So have a number of South African cricketers. Yet it is all up there for the public to judge. There is no secrecy, it is all out in the open. The problem with a secret inquiry, like those conducted in Pakistan and India, is that you can choose to reveal what you want. And you can offer legalese to cover what you don't reveal. In the light of all the revelations by Manoj Prabhakar, the man who conducted the inquiry in India is increasingly being seen as one who had a commission to give Indian cricket a clean chit and let the board games go on.

Australia should conduct an inquiry the way South Africa is doing. It should be open to the media though there is no need to reduce it to a farce the way the O.J. Simpson trial was. And any suspicious incidents should be examined threadbare. After that, the guilty should be thrown out of the game. Then Australia can take the high moral ground. There is an old adage about people who live in glass houses...