Being a zealot of sports and games since childhood, I have always been a believer in the natural adage that states every game has its pros and cons. The upside can be overwhelmingly good, honing your physical and mental side to the point of invincibility. The downside in its darkest incarnation can, however, shatter you to your doom.
Cricket, one of the most popular games played across the face of the planet, is no exception to this age-old citation. The sport has paved salvation for several nations marred by poverty and other monstrosities bred by humans. Cricket has also similarly laid waste to erstwhile greats of the game who simply chose the wrong path to stardom by cheating.
In a hunger to attain the zenith, several cricketers, who previously had illustrious careers sheening around their necks, chose crooked paths. These players indulged in doping to enhance their physical abilities or resorted to ball-tampering to topple the opposition in crucial stages of a game. By intentionally not playing to the best of their abilities, a term known as 'tanking' in some sports, they resorted to match-fixing where they wanted to be rich by merely losing a game.
Honestly, being amoral is an art only if you know how to get away with it. However, in case such a player is caught, their doom can be spelt in a matter of a few seconds. Their cricketing career enters into a spiralling vortex of entropy. But the worst part of this bargain is also that they lose all the love and respect from those crazy fans that took ages to garner.
In case they are the leader or captain of a team, it becomes a lot harder for them to go out and sustain themselves in the face of imminent calamity. On that note, we sneak a peek into the careers of five legendary captains who lost it all in a crooked negotiation to darkness.
1. Hansie Cronje (South Africa)
Hansie Cronje, a tragic hero to best describe him, was one of the legendary all-rounders South Africa ever had in their ranks. Besides, his leadership flair riveted the attention of the African brass that propelled him to the Proteas captaincy.
With Kepler Wessels injured in the 1993-94 series against Australia, Cronje captained South Africa in the Melbourne Test that witnessed a nail-biting finish on the final day as the visitors walked away with the bragging rights.
Cronje earned permanent captaincy of the South African side in 1994 in a Test series against New Zealand. His side suffered a comprehensive beating in the first rubber. However, things soon turned for the good. South Africa validated their mettle in the Mandela Trophy held in the middle of the Test series. The tourists also won the last two Tests of the series to come out triumphant.
With 27 Test victories under his belt, South Africa routed every other nation in a series or the other, barring Australia.
Things were going smoothly like a knife through butter, but that was when his nosedive began. On 7th April 2000, Cronje was convicted of match-fixing with Sanjay Chawla, a member of the Indian betting syndicate. Initially, the South African skipper turned down the allegation. Cronje stated that he was not involved in any match-fixing and always maintained high integrity while representing his nation.
However, four days later, he was divested of his captaincy after confessing to Ali Bacher that he was not entirely honest. Cronje finally nailed his colours to the mast when he stated that he had accepted between $10000 to $15000 for ‘forecasting’ results and not fixing matches.
Incidents started unfurling one after the other that further went against Cronje. Herschelle Gibbs divulged being offered $15000 to score less than 20 runs in the fifth ODI against Indian in Nagpur. Another offer was made to Gibbs’ roommate, Henry Williams, of $15000 to concede more than 50 runs in his quota of ten overs. However, none of the two 'offers' materialised. Gibbs smashed 74 off 53 deliveries in the said game while Henry Williams did not bowl more than a solitary over owing to a shoulder injury.
On 15th June that year, Cronje mentioned that Mohammad Azharuddin had introduced him to Mukesh Gupta, another member of the betting syndicate, who offered $30000 for South Africa to lose the remaining wickets on the final day of a Test.
With the reports of Cronje making a hash of things disseminating all over, he was finally banned from all forms of cricket for life on 11th October 2000. After 11 months of the communique, Cronje appealed for the ban to be overturned, only for the appeal to be snubbed.
In an unfortunate and tragic private plane accident, Cronje was killed on 1st June 2002. However, there were a few unsubstantiated suggestions of him being murdered to pull the curtains on match-fixing.
2. Mohammad Azharuddin (India)
There have been very few batsmen other than V.V.S Laxman who came out to bat with their collar unfolded and very elegantly pulled and drove the best of deliveries to the stands. Before Laxman arrived on the international stage, there was another name that blazed the trail for this kind of handsome elegance.
The name of Mohammad Azharuddin is known in almost every Indian household that follows cricket as a tradition. One of the finest slip fielders in the game's history, Azharuddin was also a fabulous batsman and a calm-headed leader. The stylish Hyderabadi got involved a controversy that was finally nullified a decade after him being banned for life.
Azharuddin led India in a remarkable 47 Tests where his team managed to notch up 14 victories. It was a record for most Test victories by an Indian captain that was finally bettered by Saurav Ganguly. It was at this point that Azharuddin found himself mired in a series of match-fixing controversies.
He was questioned for the first time after Hansie Cronje drew light towards the Indian captain. In one of his damned confessions, Cronje claimed that it was Azharuddin who introduced the South African skipper to a booking syndicate member.
Based on an inquest led by the Crime Bureau of Investigation, BCCI and ICC banned Azharuddin for life. In fact, in an interrogating session, the Indian skipper confessed to the fixing of three matches which he later denied in an interview.
Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma were suspended for life by BCCI while Ajay Jadeja was given a five-year ban. However, Jadeja’s ban was lifted in 2003 while Azharuddin kept on fighting one of the longest-dragged cases in a bid to absolve his name.
In 2012, the Andhra Pradesh High Court finally cleared Azharuddin of all the allegations, stating a lack of evidence as the major reason for their conclusion. The verdict, however, came long after India’s most elegant skipper had bid adieu to cricket.
3. Steve Smith (Australia)
Probably one of the best batsmen in the world at the moment, Steve Smith nosedived into a year of darkness after Cricket Australia suspended him for bringing his nation into disrepute.
In Australia’s tour of South Africa in 2018, things got heated up early in the series. Despite Australia humiliating the hosts in the opening Test, things took a physical turn when David Warner got indulged in a stairwell confrontation.
In the next Test, South Africa responded strongly by taming Australia. But Kagiso Rabada was banned for a match after being convicted of making physical contact with Smith. However, the South African fast bowler successfully overturned the decision much to the disappointment of the Australian skipper.
These were just the appetisers for what was about to unfold in the third Test. Much to the chagrin of Australia, South Africa left the visitors broken, battered and scarred on the field. This upshot, though, was precipitated by a scandal that played a pivotal role in changing Australia’s attitude to the game.
The second youngest team member of Australia, Cameron Bancroft, was found tampering with the ball and was confronted by the umpires. This led to Steve Smith and David Warner being summoned to clarify the incident.
Smith stated that the leadership group decided at lunchtime to tamper with the ball to affect the result of the match. However, who exactly comprised the leadership group remains inscrutable till this date.
Post the game, Smith was banned for one Test match and was fined 100 per cent of his match fee. Bancroft was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and was given three demerit points.
It was just the tip of the iceberg, where the next year of dark fate started unfurling for the Australian skipper. Cricket Australia set up their investigation committee that led to Steven Smith being banned for a year. The results of the committee stated that Smith misled match officials and never showed any intent in preventing his teammates from committing something so scandalous.
However, being the great cricketer that he is, Smith remorsefully cited:
“It was a failure of leadership, my leadership."
Smith also apologised to his teammates, fans of cricket all around the world and to all Australians who were 'disappointed and angry'.
The player specifically referred to the effect the incident had had on his parents and implored others faced with questionable decisions to consider their parents. Smith further said:
"I know I will regret this for the rest of my life. I'm absolutely gutted. I hope in time I can earn back respect and forgiveness.”
4. Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)
Shakib al Hasan, one of the most decorated Bangladesi batsman and the world’s leading all-rounder, found himself facing severe consequences after he thrice failed to report the approaches of match-fixing agents.
He was leading a fine Bangladeshi cricket renaissance that witnessed the Asian Cup finalists scaling new heights when he was called out for not being completely clean.
After an investigation, Shakib al Hasan owned up the allegations. He was subsequently banned for two years from cricket, with one year being suspended. The all-rounder is set to return to the game on October 29, 2020.
With 3862 runs from 56 Test matches and 6323 runs from 206 ODIs, Shakib al Hasan is the first Bangladeshi international to score more than 1000 runs in the World Cup. His final essay before being banned came against Afghanistan where his quickfire 70 from 45 deliveries propelled Bangladesh to a convincing victory.
5. Maurice Odumbe (Kenya)
It is not very often that you walk up to Brian Lara and avenge his earlier denial to give an autograph unless you are Maurice Odumbe.
It was in 1994 when Odumbe wanted an autograph of Brian Lara during a Worcestershire game, but the West Indian legend declined. In the 1996 World Cup, Odumbe's magical figures of 3 for 15 dismantled the Caribbean outfit for a paltry 93.
After the game, Odumbe walked into the West Indian dressing room and offered Lara an autograph of his own, stating,
“I asked for your autograph and you wouldn't give it. Now I am saying you can have mine.”
Odumbe then led Kenya to unplumbed heights in the 2003 World Cup but had to bid a premature goodbye to the game after being implicated in match-fixing.
One fine day in March 2004, the International Cricket Council walked on to this Kenyan skipper to investigate for any links with bookmakers. After rigorous interrogations, Odumbe confessed links with Jagadish Sodha, a renowned dark name in the circuit of bookmakers.
In August 2004, Odumbe was declared guilty and was banned for the next five years, which did summon the bugle call for his farewell to the game.
Averaging an impressive 43 and raking up nine wickets in the 2003 World Cup, Maurice Odumbe culminated into a cult hero for the African cricketers of Kenya. However, vehement acts of nepotism and racial discriminations eventually sank the boat of their cricketing status.
Despite the nation not being too enmeshed in scandals, the Odumbe incident rocked the country upside down. Odumbe, however, still claims that he only knew the bookmaker and never indulged in any kind of match-fixing.
However, according to his wife, Odumbe in collusion with six other players, were involved in fixing a game that cost Kenya the match.
A tragic fate for such a brazen persona of cricket, isn’t it?
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