Rashid Latif, Pakistan's captain, was one of the first international cricketers to blow the whistle on matchfixing in cricket. He took a courageous moral stand in retiring from the game because he could not stand the corruption in the game, and returned in style when it was cleaned up. But is matchfixing really a matter of the past? In this letter to the International Cricket Council (ICC), exclusively available on Wisden CricInfo, Latif says that fixing still exists, albeit in a different form. Never one to state a problem without suggesting a solution, Latif outlines a series of remedial measures that can bring what he describes as "Fancy Fixing" to a halt.
The day competitive cricket commenced, betting in the game also started. A person could get lucrative cash and other awards on the basis of approximate and/or accurate bets about the number of boundaries hit by a batsman, the number of wickets a bowler would take and so on. Nowadays we have special booths and stalls at cricket grounds worldwide and websites on the internet to legally bet on not just cricket but virtually all other sports.
Just as some students revel in extra-curricular activities, some cricketers indulge in what I call "extra-cricketing" actions (a term recently introduced to me by one of my friends). These contain measures that affect the outcome of matches and are used to curb the skills of players and counter any planning done by the team management. Extra-curricular activities mostly have a positive impact on the performance of a student; in contrast, extra-cricketing measures destroy the very character of the game.
Why is this so? Because the most prominent extra-cricketing action is that of matchfixing. The idea behind it is to force the result of the match – especially if an astonishing result can be contrived – which would help in getting extraordinary sums, particularly for those betting against the odds.
The post-Packer era brought color and glamour to cricket. Tremendous amounts of money started to pour into the game through big corporate sponsorships. This was a positive change, much needed for the bright future of the game.
The healthy monetary situation also increased the stakes in matches and tournaments. As a consequence, the winnings in the betting industry also got amplified. Bookies, in order to avoid heavy losses and earn considerable sums, started to influence outcome of the games by approaching players and even captains of teams with hefty bribes to influence the results of the matches.
This was the birth of matchfixing. It affected cricket tremendously throughout the 1990s. As you are aware, it was during the same time that I retired from international cricket because there was no challenge left in the game – despite working hard, the outcomes of matches were being fixed by outside elements. As a true fan of the game, which I play at the highest professional level, I want to remain attached with cricket at every level – from playing the game competitively to administration and coaching. I would like to assist every authority in closing all loopholes that could bring the game to disrepute – this will continue to be my struggle.
The stance taken by the International Cricket Council (ICC) on matchfixing has been to place the onus on national cricket boards to investigate and eradicate this problem. The ICC, in 2000, under the able leadership of Lord Condon, and a three-year budget of US$4 Million (till April 2003) started an independent Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU). ACU did a good job of supporting the official investigations in Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, UAE and West Indies. The hard work of all the cricket boards of cricket and ACU must be commended in lessening matchfixing to negligible levels.
At present, the soul of the game is not really threatened by matchfixing. However, we have certain loopholes within the format and the laws of matches, which have resulted in the birth of something that I would call "Fancy Fixing". Unlike matchfixing, it is the ICC's obligation to eliminate this problem.
Let me explain what is "Fancy Fixing". It is something that flows from certain restrictions that are imposed upon the game. For instance, in one-day matches, in the first 15 overs at least nine fielders players – including the bowler – have to be within the 30-yards circle and two fielders – other than the wicketkeeper – in catching positions. During the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka were one of the first teams to fully exploit this rule by hammering 100-odd runs during the first 15 overs. Afterwards, everybody started to expect a similar tempo from other teams.
This opened a window of opportunity for betting. One can bet on teams scoring over six runs an over, but what if a team with hard-hitting strokeplayers makes around 50 to 60 runs during these overs. The top-order batsmen are usually aware of such fancy bets; they have an opportunity to make good money and are even approached by bookies to accomplish such a task. This is what I refer to as "Fancy Fixing".
I am not accusing any team and/or players or indulging in this. I am merely identifying a loophole in the 15-over-restriction rule, which has created big opportunities of making money and indirectly influencing the outcome of matches. This provides a chance for the bookies to approach top-order batsmen to achieve unusual scores and affect the complexion of competitive matches.
An example of "Fancy Fixing" in Test cricket is to bet on scores during different sessions. For instance, a bet could be on the number of runs or the number of overs bowled in the two hours before lunch; let's say, 70 runs in the 30 required overs in the session (note that there is no penalty on not bowling the 30 overs in a session; the fine is only on the overall number of overs in a day). To achieve this, one can approach opening batsmen and/or can approach the bowling side to slow down the over-rate to, say, 25 overs in two hours rather than the regular 30.
Since "Fancy Fixing" has emerged because of the rules and regulations of cricket matches, only the ICC can bring about necessary changes. It is my humble request to the ICC to take immediate practical steps. One of them is to please remove the 15-overs-restriction law from one-day cricket. I would like to suggest using the 30-yards circle throughout 50 overs with at least four fielders plus the bowler within the circle at all times.
Another suggestion, which is basically to make the game more competitive, is to increase the quota of overs allowed for each bowler in one-day games. My suggestion is to make it a maximum of 12 overs per bowler for a 50-over match. This will make the game more challenging for the batting side, who in turn will have the chance of playing an extra batsman. In Test matches, I would like to suggest severe fines for not bowling 29 or 30 overs in any one session.
I pray and hope that the ICC will step forward and form a special committee of recently retired former captains of different national teams. This committee can seek advice from present captains and officials of national sides. The idea is to look closely at all the restrictive laws and rules in cricket, in order to identify loopholes, which are enhancing the industry of "Fancy Fixing". This special standing committee should keep on scrutinizing and monitoring the affect of new and old rules on matchfixing - or any kind of fixing, for that matter.
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