The year 2013 was a shameful yet incredible year for international cricket. Shameful because of the revelations of spot-fixing and betting cornering some renowned names in the sport. And incredible because it showed the world that even heroes can be guilty of falling prey to the 'charm of hardcore cash.' Even more incredibly however, it was not the year that cricket - or Indian Premier League in particular - stooped to a new low. Not! (Related: Gavaskar says two IPL players approached by bookies this year)
If latest revelations by Kiwi cricketer Brendon McCullum are to be believed, unforgivable violations in this pious sport - and in IPL format - have existed for years! And the skeletons are tumbling out of the cupboard. (Also read: McCullum vows to cooperate with ICC investigators)
McCullum - one of the greatest exponents of contemporary cricket - recently revealed to International Cricket Council officials that he was approached to underperform in several matches including those held as part of the inaugural IPL in 2008. He was offered a business opportunity, reported UK's Daily Mail.
A 'business opportunity?' Has cricket become a business where opportunity to win has taken a backseat vis-a-vis opportunity to earn? The answer may well be a resounding yes and it really shouldn't shock many. What should though is that some big and yet-to-be-named stars are allegedly becoming 'successful entrepreneurs' in the market called cricket.
Cricket and its Pandora's box
At 32, McCullum has served cricket for over 12 years. He has played 84 Tests, 229 ODIs and 68 T20Is apart from domestic, County and IPL cricket. When a player like him reveals that there are forces at work against the genuineness with which cricket is played, it is throwing the Pandora's box open indeed.
In charges made by McCullum and reported by Daily Mail, he was quoted as saying that the 'prize' was anywhere between $70,000 and $180,000 per game! A 'Player X' is said to have explained what new-age cricket is all about. "He said that the "Big Boys" in international cricket were doing it and he didn't want me to miss out." (Related: Kiwi Lou Vincent charged on 14 offenses by ECB | He expects more charges against him)
Connect the dots and unearth IPL's horrid underbelly
McCullum was approached in Kolkata before the start of IPL in 2008. Yes, it was the same year in which he smashed 158 off 73 balls in the first-ever IPL match - an electric start but a start to what?
Since the beginning of IPL, hushed rumours of betting and fixing have existed. It was believed to have been done by bookies with police from various parts of India even conducting successful raids. To suggest then that cricketers, team owners and officials may also be involved would have been blasphemy! (Suggested read: Leak of testimonies worries Sunil Gavaskar )
And yet, if McCullum was approached - he is learnt to have refused, how many other stars fell to the lure? How many have gone down and swam in the tournament's horrid underbelly - surfacing with riches and unrealized shame which comes with it?
How can IPL - or cricket at large - be trusted as a sparkling clean sport?
What happened last year may well be a case of the fish biting the bait and, for a change, being seen doing so by the entire ocean. But in the depths of the ocean, the darkness never recedes.
ICC and Cricket Boards - Beacons of hope or the uninterested fighters?
Set up in 2000, ICC's Anti Corruption and Security Unit strives to fight against the menace of corruption in the sport. "International cricket is a leader in the fight against corruption in sports and it needs to remain so," is the message on ACSU website. If McCullum's lawyer Gareth Galloway is to be believed though, ASCU may well be more of a pauper than a leader against corruption.
Galloway was quoted as saying recently that despite his client's revelations, the ICC and the ACSU has been rather silent and "incompetent" in handling the matter. (Read more here)
Incompetence is one side of a deplorable tale. Involvement in the crime itself is quite another. Yes, media reports in Bangladesh have even hinted at links between ACSU officials and bookies. (Read more here).
When ICC itself may be suffering from gangrene in one of its arms, what really can the national cricket boards do? The richest of them all - Board of Control for Cricket in India - was even shamed when it failed to take effective measures to check fixing in IPL 2013. Such is the state of affairs that while a handful of players were banned for life, the root of the problem exists and perhaps even flourishes.
While there may not be any quick-fire way of stamping corruption out of cricket, the lack of urgency shown to find gradual remedial steps is quite dismal.
The intent to fight seems to be only on paper and while there may be honest cricketers and officials working hard to wage war, the general impression is that the opposing forces are making the most of lackluster resistance they are facing.
And when IPL is put under the microscope, it is clear that for all the thrills and spills of cricket, the sport itself may well be far removed from what it was in its glory years.