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This mess will never be fixed

THE Hansie Cronje caper and all its ramifications has made a couple of things clear about the cricket world, if nothing else: one, when it comes to hypocrisy, cricket administrators will win hands down. Nobody, not even the Biblical Pharisees, could have outdone them at this game. And two, most people who write about the game lack logic, they lack basic powers of reasoning. They have their own little colonial axes to grind, they write in haste and ignorance and then hope that the reading public will forget what they have put down in print.

Take the case of the South African cricket administrators: why did they offer cast-iron guarantees about Cronje before they had any idea about what was going on? There was just one motive: to paint themselves as a bunch of officials who had created a system in which cricketers would not stoop to such depths. Ali Bacher is now being applauded for swiftly sacking Cronje; does anyone seriously think that, given the political situation in South Africa, he had any choice? If he had tried to paper things over, there would have been a great deal of disquiet and Bacher himself may have been looking at an early exit from his coveted post.

The situation in South Africa is tricky, with a black government and a policy of trying to make black sportsmen come through the ranks to make up for the years of repression under apartheid. The events in Zimbabwe are putting additional pressure on South Africa. Could Bacher have excused a white captain in this scenario? The simple answer is no. Anybody who answers differently is just shutting their eyes to reality.

No better study in the art of hypocrisy was available than the Australian cricket board when the story broke. There were expressions of shock and even the prime minister made a statement. It was laughable, the man expressed hope that the ICC would make every effort to weed out cheats!!! What was conveniently forgotten was the fact that two prominent Australian cricketers, Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, did exactly the same thing which Cronje has confessed to: they took money from an Indian bookmaker and gave him information about ground and weather conditions. The Australian board kept it quiet for four years and only came out in the open when it got wind of the fact that a journalist was about to break the story. Else, it would have remained in the cupboard. Why were they not sacked from the team? And if Australia did not act when it had two guilty people in its own backyard, who are the Australians to call for action against others? An inquiry was conducted with a lot of fanfare into events that were more than four years old. The two cricketers appeared at press conferences, shamefaced but still arrogant. The board did nothing. It emulated Nero. And you, dear reader, know the old saying about people who live in glass houses, so let me not trespass on your patience by repeating the whole thing here.

There is more than an element of racism in this whole affair as well. There was a great deal of doubt cast on the Indian police when they first made their claims about Cronje and his teammates. Granted, the Indian police are generally corrupt. I should know; I have seen them accept sums as little as two rupees as bribes. But this should not have blinded journalists and everybody else to some very cold, hard facts: India and South Africa have excellent ties. Given the status that cricket enjoys, such revelations as these were bound to create ripples at very high levels. Remember that India was the first country in which South Africa played cricket after apartheid was lifted; this was more as a gesture of thanks for all the help extended to the anti-apartheid movement during those dark years.

Given this background, and also the fact there is a great deal of inter-country commerce due to the number of businessmen of Indian origin who live in South Africa, is it logical that police in the capital, (not some hick town) would make such accusations at a public press conference -- this story was not leaked, remember -- without having some concrete evidence? And based on the same reasoning is it not naive to believe that all this happened without the sanction and knowledge of the Indian government? Top Indian police officials owe their positions to politicians and that is no secret. No police official in his right mind would endanger his position by doing something like this unless he had solid proof and backing. And if anybody believes that India did not at least indicate to South Africa that the brown stuff was going to hit the ceiling, then they will also believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

Even after Cronje came out and confessed that he had taken money, there were journalists around to say that all the other claims of fixing had been about cricketers from India and Pakistan and anyway, there was an Indian link in this one too. Of course, Warne and Mark Waugh were conveniently forgotten. As long as we have a press mob like this, one that is busy trying to reconstruct theories on which the whole British Raj was based, believe me, match-fixing will continue apace. But this does not mean that Cronje is the only guilty party. Not by a long shot. I firmly believe that others in the South African team have been getting their share of the moolah and are now sitting quiet, hoping the storm dies down. And those in other countries who have bulging bank accounts in some part of the world courtesy of this bookmaker or that, must be shivering in their shoes a bit and entertaining similar hopes.

Why does this charade continue? The fact is, if all the bookmakers decide to squeal, then many politicians in the subcontinent are going to get very hot under the collar. And there is no saying who will have to end up behind bars. This is the main reason why any official, serious (and that is the operative word), inquiry will not take place. There will be inquiries aplenty, oh yes, there will be one for every day of the year if it will make the public and a suddenly righteous press gallery happy. And after that, we will all go back to figuring out the odds when X or Y drops a catch which looked simple.

The ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya just wants the whole thing to go away. From all the evidence available, it looks as though Dalmiya has more interest in being the next Indian cricket board chief than in any of his day to day duties. He is the master of the verbal fan dance, the expert in violating his own organisation's guidelines. He has promoted Bangladesh during his tenure at the head of the ICC and that is enough for him; Dhaka, which saw one Asia Cup in 1988 and nothing else until 1997, has seen 24 one-day games since then. Bangladesh has also gained official one-day status and all indications are that it will become the next Test playing nation, ahead of a more deserving case like Kenya. One fluke win (and yes, I maintain that it was a fluke, something like India's win over the West Indies in the World Cup final of 1983) in an ICC cup final was all it took.

Be prepared for inquiries galore. South Africa has already set one in motion. No other player will be found guilty unless they confess. England has announced that it plans to conduct one. Same result. And then there will be a big press conference where the ICC will boldly announce that it has done the right thing and ascertained that no guilty parties are part of the game any more. And then we can all go back to using our favourite Hindi phrase when we notice those odd happenings: "Paise kha liya."