aniruddha_bahal

DAVID Hookes has given Australian fans two moments they will never forget, each of them for very different reasons. In the 1977 Centenary Test against England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Hookes set the match alight by hitting England’s Tony Greig for five consecutive fours. Then, on Tuesday, December 8, 1998, Hookes revealed on the Melbourne radio station 3AW that Mark Waugh and Shane Warne—two of the country’s highest-paid cricketers—had accepted money from a Madras-based bookie.

“In Sri Lanka in 1994, Mark Waugh accepted money from an Indian bookmaker to give a report on the ground and weather conditions for some of the upcoming matches in that series,” said Hookes on-air. “I must say that any suggestion that bribery was involved has been denied outright by a spokesman for Mark Waugh and the Players’ Association themselves… And I’m also led to believe that Shane Warne was also involved… he also accepted money from the bookmaker, giving ground reports and weather conditions.”

It was a revelation that rocked this sports-mad nation. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation interrupted scheduled programmes the next day to televise the media conference at which Waugh and Warne—they had been paid $11,000—faced the press. And prime minister John Howard, weighing his words carefully, emphasised just how serious the matter was when he said, “I would imagine that, given the great passion that Australians have for cricket, there’s an intense feeling of disappointment. Australians love their cricket and anything that looks as though it’s knocking cricket off its pedestal is something that’s going to deeply disturb Australians.” By week’s end, more dirt was flying:

 

  • Former New Zealand paceman Danny Morrison revealed he had been offered $1,000 by “an Indian player” in 1994 to take a telephone call and provide information during the Hamilton Test. 
  • Australian spinner Greg Matthews said he was having beer in a bar in Sri Lanka in 1992 when a “gentleman” sidled up next to him and offered money to provide information. 
  • Indian journalist R. Mohan named “a former Indian Test cricketer” as the intermediary between the bookie and Waugh and Warne in Colombo. 
  • The Evening Post, Wellington, said during the 1989-90 Indian tour of New Zealand, press box telephones were constantly called by “an Indian gentleman” wanting to know the state of play, team-line-ups and the weather. Match officials took similar calls.

“Bigger Than Bodyline,” ran the headline in The Age for an article by Matthew Engel, editor of the game’s bible, Wisden, as cricket’s worst-kept secret returned to haunt the game. The International Cricket Council (ICC) meets in Christchurch next month to consider the report expected from Pakistan on that country’s bribery crisis involving Salim Malik, Ijaz Ahmed and Wasim Akram.

Suddenly, it was retribution time as the Ashes’ clashes paled into insignificance. Warne was sacked as a columnist by the tabloid Mirror. Waugh was jeered as he walked in to bat during the third Test in Adelaide. “Mark, the casino is down the road,” said one banner. And Australian Cricket Board (ACB) chief Denis Rogers said sorry for the scandal, “especially the kids”, and announced a new, independent investigation.

“Two more players (Morrison and Matthews) have said they were approached for information. What I want to clear up is that there are no other sleepers in the Australian team in that context,” Rogers said. And bribery-ravaged Pakistan, reeling under twin home defeats to Australia and Zimbabwe, suddenly rediscovered its voice. “We would like ACB to place all the cards on the table,” Pakistan Cricket Board chief Khalid Mahmood said, “to dispel the impression that it is once again trying to sweep the matter under the carpet”.

Were the two cricketers accused of rigging matches? No. But Australian captain Mark Taylor said on the eve of the Adelaide Test there was a probable link between the scandal and Waugh, Warne and retired spinner Tim May accusing former Pakistan captain Salim Malik of bribery in 1994.

But the point remains that Waugh and Warne had accepted money from someone apart from the ACB. Sports betting is a completely legal activity in Australia, but this is not the case on the subcontinent. It follows that Waugh and Warne had both accepted money from someone involved in an illegal pursuit. Logically, therefore, both cricketers had tarnished their careers. Both were experienced enough to know that they should not have entered into any verbal agreement with anyone, let alone accept money in exchange for information.

Hookes revealed on his radio programme that Waugh “went to the ACB in 1994 after receiving some money and said he wasn’t sure whether he was doing the right thing or the wrong thing and he wanted the hierarchy to know what happened and to throw it back in their court”.

As it happened, the ACB fined Waugh $10,000 and Warne $8,000. Yet, strangely enough, this was the start of what can only be described as a major cover-up. Australian journalists have been given to understand that there is no mention in the Board’s minutes of the two players being fined. The chairman of the ACB at the time was Alan Crompton. He and the Board’s chief executive, Graham Halbish, met two senior ICC figures—chairman Sir Clyde Walcott and chief executive David Richards—and told them, in strict confi-dence, that Waugh and Warne had been fined. And as far as the ACB and the ICC were concerned, the matter ended there. No one from either of those two elite governing bodies provided any information about the matter, keeping a tight lid on the affair for four years.

HOWEVER, at least three cricket writers were aware of rumours that two Australian players had been fined for their involvement in illegal betting. In Melbourne, The Sunday Age investigated the matter thoroughly, but no one at Board level was talking. The Sydney Morning Herald was given anonymous information that Waugh had been fined, but Crompton, Halbish and Waugh refused to answer any questions. Halbish did say that there were lots of rumours about illegal betting activities but said he was not prepared to discuss them.

At this early stage of the affair, it seems that Warne and Waugh admitted their involvement to the ACB only when questioned about it. From the evidence available at this time, it does not seem as though either player volunteered the information. Furthermore, if the members of the ACB decided to fine both players and keep the matter a closely-guarded secret, was every member of the Board in agreement that this was the best way to hush up the matter? If it was not a unanimous decision, how did the matter stay under wraps for four years?

Malcolm Speed, the present chief executive of the Board (who was not involved in any of the discussions with Waugh or Warne), said after Hookes’ radio bombshell, “there’s nothing new, it’s just public”. Now that the world is aware that two Australian cricketers were paid by a bookmaker, does the ACB regret its role in the cover-up? In the words of Speed, “With hindsight, four years further on, after four years of fairly aggressive investigation and conjecture about bribery and bookmakers, we look back on that and say it would have been better if it had been made public at the time.” Speed did, however, emphasise that neither player would be punished again because it would be improper to fine a player for the same mistake twice.

At their joint press conference on December 9, the day after Hookes had delivered the bombshell, Waugh and Warne apologised, saying they were sorry for what they had done. “I realise that I was very naive and stupid,” said Warne, “I deeply regret this action off the field and wish to state playing for Australia is the greatest honour I’ve had in my cricketing career.” Waugh followed the same path. “I realise and accept it fully,” he said, “that my actions were naive and stupid. I regret them entirely and wish to restate in the strongest possible manner that I have always given my best for my country.” Neither Waugh nor Warne were the first Australians to be approached. In September 1992, Dean Jones refused an $80,000 offer from a Sri Lankan bookmaker. And in September 1993, Allan Border spurned a million-dollar bribe to lose the fifth Test of the Ashes series in England, a match that Australia went on to win by eight wickets.

In the light of those refusals, Waugh and Warne’s decision to accept the money offered to them is all the more hard to understand. Neither man is short of a quid. After all, Warne is shortly to receive no less a sum than $200,000 to give up smoking. So it was easy to understand, then, why the Adelaide Oval was so busy the day after the story had broken. It was not because the third Ashes Test of the 1998 series was only two days away; it was because everyone wanted a ringside view of Australian cricket’s darkest hour. There were more than 100 media representatives there to hear what Waugh and Warne had to say. Allan Border, who was present because of a different matter altogether, is reported to have said he doubted whether he ever saw so many journalists at any of the media conferences during his time as captain of Australia.

The matter of Waugh and Warne took prime time on all television bulletins and dominated front and back pages of every newspaper in the country. The shock waves reverberated around the country. Richie Benaud, former Australian captain and veteran cricket commentator, is not a man given to overstatement. Yet he was swift in his condemnation. “It’s appalling,” he said. “And one of the most appalling things is that it’s been covered up for so long.” Another former Australian captain, Neil Harvey, said he thought both cricketers should be banned from international cricket.

Even Speed admitted that Australian cricket’s reputation “has been damaged by this incident”. How badly has it been damaged? Well, for starters, Waugh was one of the Australians who gave evidence during the recent tour of Pakistan, testifying that Salim Malik had tried to bribe him, Warne and Tim May. Has that evidence now been compromised or diluted in any way? Certainly, Justice Malik Moha-mmad Qayyum seems to think so.As the judge in charge of Pakistan’s match-fixing inquiry, he has said he could well ask Waugh and Warne for fresh evidence to back the claims against Malik. In addition, the head of the Pakistani Board of Control has said he would lodge a protest with the ACB and will also make a submission to the ICC next month.

In the week when Australia learnt that Melbourne was to become home to the world’s tallest building, the cricket scandal stole the headlines. The Australian carried the bold words “$11,000: Price of disgrace” while the Sydney Morning Herald carried the words “Baggy green shame”. Condemnation was universal in a country where every man is a good bloke until proven otherwise.

Waugh stayed on in Adelaide for the Test match but no one tried to cover him even though it was common knowledge where the team was staying. Warne, who had not played a Test in this series because he is just coming back into the game after shoulder surgery, flew back to Melbourne for a Sheffield Shield game. Aiming at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he greeted the media with a simple ‘good morning gentlemen’ and when he did stop to strike up a conversation, no one chased him to thrust a camera or a microphone in his face.

The fallout has not subsided, but as Mark Taylor says, Australia’s position in world cricket has been tarnished. The mood of the country is sombre, for two top-flight cricketers have let down 17 million of their countrymen. Professional sporting conduct has been called into question. Ethics have been more sharply delineated. Mark Waugh and Warne could conceivably have sacrificed their chances of ever captaining this country.

More importantly, the words of Mark Ray, cricket writer for the The Age and a former Sheffield Shield player, have come back to haunt everyone else who knows the true meaning of a wonderful cricket contest. Many times has he written that the bookies have at least one cricketer from every international team on their payroll. Where is this going to end? Only time will tell.

December 21, 1998

Bigger Than Bodyline

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That’s A No-Ball

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August 31, 1998

A Bridge Too Long

The Army reconnects a part of India—in a heroic 20 days