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Warne's good turn

Shane Warne has done cricket in the subcontinent a big favour by releasing his book just at the time when public memory is beginning to forget the charges of bribery and match-fixing which were levelled by both Manoj Prabhakar and Rashid Latif. There have been countless voices which have attempted to play down the charges and one is inclined to suspect that there is more than just an iota of truth in them exactly for this reason. Warne's book has helped to resurrect the issue.

Had similar charges been levelled in Australia or England or for that matter any other cricket-playing country with the exception of India and Pakistan, the media would have put enough pressure on the authorities to ensure that a thorough inquiry was carried out and spring-cleaning done, if needed. In India, the board secretary denied that any such acts were possible -- and then felt he had done enough. Later, a laconical inquiry was set up; the way it is being conducted, it is a foregone conclusion that there will be no indictment.

One reason for the lack of interest in the media may have been the fact that two journalists were said to be involved; one is alleged to have lost his job. Journalists tend to stick together and after that the only reports on the allegations have been filed when the inquiry panel has called somebody for " a chat;" that is the language that the retired judge who constitutes the one-man panel prefers to use. It provides an indicator to the tone of the questions being posed.

The authorities in Pakistan don't seem too interested in raking up a can of worms either; they have also conveniently brushed everything under the carpet. Aamir Sohail was willing to recant his charges in order to get his place back and Rashid Latif is, anyway, in the wilderness. Nobody else has dared to say a word after Sohail was made an example of; the message was clear that the board would not tolerate anybody who played across the line, to use a cricketing term.

What happens next? The Indian team goes to Canada for a meaningless series against Pakistan where, it is said, those in the know can tell you the outcome before the match begins. Then there is a three-match series in Pakistan. For India, the Sharjah tournament is next. Pakistan have a four-nation one-day tournament and a Test series against the West Indies to follow. All these ties will be played with the spectre of match-fixing hanging over them. Nobody cares enough to want to first clear the air before the game goes on.

It is worthwhile noting some examples from other countries. The moment the English football authorities got wind of alleged match-fixing, there was a full-scale inquiry to find out those responsible, if any. The ones under a cloud were kept out of fixtures until the inquiry was over. In much the same way, Malaysia conducted a thorough inquiry into match-fixing charges in its football league and a major spring cleaning job was done. Both these countries were serious about cleaing up the sport. It must be noted that there was also a great deal of pressure from the media to conduct just such a clean-up job.

In both India and Pakistan, the attitude is markedly different. Some believe that it is anti-national to write about match-fixing and bribery as it may affect the players and prevent the team from winning! They would rather cover up, let the cancer grow and have a few shoddy wins to keep up dubious "national prestige." Both the authorities and the media are to blame for taking such an attitude. Clearing the air of these charges would do everybody concerned a big favour but it is clear that nobody, apart from the odd cricket writer, sees it this way.

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