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A captain you can bet on

A captain you can bet on

Mark Manuel
Afternoon Despatch and Courier
April 18, 2000
Title: A captain you can bet on
Author: Mark Manuel
Publication: Afternoon Despatch and Courier
Date: April 18, 2000

The calling from Pune, this reader burdened by anxiety for disgraced South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje. And he was calling because he believed it was the Christian thing to do. The call came when I was having coffee with an advertising friend who had met with Cronje for the J Hampstead ads and was now defending him hotly.

She was telling me fiercely, "Listen, I have met Cronje, and I can tell you he is not that kind of guy. He has a clean feel about him. I know he is not guilty of all the charges framed against him. He's been set up. Short-changed. I can feel it in my bones." I was about to change the topic and discuss her bones, when the phone call came.

Pune reader

The Pune reader unburdened his anxiety onto me. "Everybody's talking about what a rotten guy Cronje is, but don't you think it required guts to do what he did," he asked. "What," I replied, "guts to accept money from bookies and fix matches?" "No!" he said with some force.

"It took guts to confess to his wrongs. Which other cricketer would have the courage to do that?" I did not agree with him because, in my opinion, Cronje is a rat. "But why don't you agree," the caller persisted. "It was the most Christian thing to do, to confess his sins. The cricket playing world should respect Cronje, they should treat him like a hero... like they did Shane Warne and Mark Waugh who were involved in some gol-maal too."

"Look," I told him, "Don't make me laugh! I know even lesser than the next man about cricket. I am ignorant about the game and from what little I know, I find it dull and uninteresting. Talk to me about boxing and soccer instead..." But he would not have that. "Let's talk about betting, then," he said.

"Surely you too have betted at some stage in your life." I had, in fact, as a school boy, college student and young adult. "But," I told him, "I betted for bus tickets, marbles and film stars' postcards when I was in school. And in college, for cinema tickets, lunches and dates with girls. In the office, of course, I betted for money. But that was only when some enterprising colleague set up stakes for World Cup cricket and soccer matches. Or for the Derby."

"Then," the voice from Pune said triumphantly, "you know what it must feel like to indulge in a little flutter." "Of course I do," I answered. "But, the betting was always two ways. It was equal. My money against somebody else's. Both of us had a fair chance of winning.

It was never three ways with the team or person we were betting on playing a role in influencing the winning decision for a consideration. My winning or losing the bet depended on the fortunes of the teams or the sportsmen playing. And these fortunes could change either way even at the last moment of the game. That is what makes sports such a great leveller. Everybody has an equal chance of winning.

The sportsmen are expected to go out and give of their best. If they win, or their team wins, then great nothing like it. And if they lose after a closely and keenly-fought game, then there is victory in defeat too. The world admires champions who are graceful and smile even in defeat."

"You are confusing the whole issue," the Pune caller accused me. "This is not about victory and defeat. This is about a captain who takes his career in his hands and decides that come what may, he will be truthful. This is about Cronje, a practising Christian and born leader.

He guided the South African cricket team from its status as a nervous newcomer (after two decades of isolation) to a position near the summit of the game. A skipper admired for tact, diplomacy and determination through difficult political transitions and a tiring physical schedule. I know Cronje said initially he was stunned by the accusations. And he dismissed them as rubbish.

But which man would not try to save his skin? Have you considered what he must have gone through the night before he admitted his guilt? Have you thought how he must have tossed and turned, like a fish out of water, before he decided to confess his role in the match-fixing scandal?

Do you know he first confessed to his priest, he cried for God's forgiveness, then he asked what he should do next? And do you know, it was his strong Christian upbringing that made him confess to his country? His priest assured him, 'Cronje, you have confessed before God. The country and your people are nothing before God... go do it'."

I was silent for a while. Then I gave it to the Pune caller... with both barrels. "Where was Cronje's Christian upbringing when he did wrong, when he accepted money from the Indian bookies, in the first place? Earlier, I called him a rat. I now think he is a rotten rat! Imagine hiding behind Christianity. If he is guilty of match-fixing, that amounts to selling out your team-mates and country.

Then Cronje is the worst type of sportsman the world has known. Think of the poor cricket fan who sleeps outside stadiums overnight so as to be among the first to buy a ticket when the counter opens the next morning. What about him? What about the people who sit through the day's play without food or water just because they are crazy about cricket and want to see their heroes live, and not on television?

Don't they have the right to believe in their heroes? What about schoolboys who keep scrap books of their cricketing heroes and posters on the wall? How dare cricketers make a monkey out of them? I think cricketers are the most pampered, overrated, overpaid, under-achievers in the history of sports. I think all lucrative sponsorship deals should be taken away from them. Or, people should stop using the products they endorse. I think their salaries should be decided according to their performances. And I think those found guilty of match-fixing should be criminally prosecuted."

Murky politics

It is true that I do not understand much about cricket... but that is cricket that is played on 22 yards of green turf in stadiums around the world. I understand all too well what happens in the game outside the grounds and dressing-rooms of the players.

I understand the murky politics, the scandals and scams, the fact finding committees that are appointed to look into them and the reports from these committees that are never made public. I think the Board of Control for Cricket in India is a bit of a joke. I think Indian cricket is a bigger joke.

If somebody, anybody - retired Justice Y. V. Chandrachud, sports writer S. K. Sham, ex-cricketer Manoj Prabhakar, former BCCI president I. S. Bindra, does not come out and reveal the names of the Indian players who accepted money to fix matches, then Indian cricket will begin to look like Maharashtra politics.

Like Mr. G. R. Khairnar still threatening to reveal the truckload of evidence he has against Mr. Sharad Pawar's corrupt ways. How long are these set of jokers going to take us for fools? They have made a mockery of cricket. I would compare the game to the World Wrestling Federation's "Wrestlemania" on Star Sports. All rigged... but good fun and entertainment, none the less.

A tamasha in which the good guys don't always win. Witness the stupendous success of the evil Undertaker in the ring, or Dr. Death, and you'll know what I mean.

In fact, my faith in cricket is so low that I won't be surprised if I see and hear on Star Sports tomorrow that Hansie Cronje fights the Undertaker in Wrestlemania's Summer Slammer. That's how bogus it all seems.

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