Match fixing and spot fixing: Azhar and Amir

We posted the teaser for the film “Azhar” a few days ago on our Facebook page. An interesting question was raised as to whether films like this and Mohd. Amir’s re-selection in the Pakistan team was condoning match fixing and spot fixing.

Let us examine briefly both cases.

First up, Md. Azharuddin. Up-turned collar. Hyderabadi wrists of silken steel. Three consecutive centuries after debuting. A one day hundred in 62 balls. Unforgettable assaults on Lance Klusener. Panther like reflexes in the slips. Captain in three World Cup campaigns and for many of us, indelibly inked in our minds as our first Indian skipper.

In 2000, in the wake of Cronje-gate, 37 year old Azhar was accused of fixing matches and banned for life by the BCCI. Apparently he confessed to fixing three games, which he then recanted in an interview. It soon became apparent to all that there was no way back for him and that he had played the last of his 99 test matches. Azhar became a Congress MP in 2009 and in 2012, the Andhra Pradesh High Court lifted this ban.  Still, questions remain unanswered about his involvement with match-fixing.

Turning to Amir, he was touted to be the next Wasim Akram when he burst on to the scene. The world was at his feet. He was 18. Then, the spot-fixing scandal broke in 2010. Salman Butt, Md. Asif and Amir were accused of conspiring to bowl no balls on demand at Lords. While there is no good place to fix games, England is possibly one of the worst, given that these actions amount were caught by criminal offences – conspiring to cheat at gambling, accepting corrupt payments and defrauding bookmakers. While Butt and Asif said that they were innocent, Amir admitted his guilt, served his time in prison and then a five year ban from all forms of cricket. He participated in rehabilitation programs and featured in anti-corruption videos. He tried to show cricket fans and administrators that he was sorry.

Match-fixing and spot-fixing are both equally disgusting but Amir and Azhar are completely different cases.

One was the captain of a cricket-mad nation, nearing the end of his career. The other was an 18 year old who had just burst onto the scene. One allegedly influenced things on the field. The other was just one of things being influenced. One has allegedly confessed and then proclaimed his innocence, the other has admitted his guilt, even serving his time in prison.

So where do Azhar and Amir fall on the spectrum of fixers? You will find the answer depended on the stage of their respective careers when the accusations came up.

While the allegations of fixing may have ended Azhar’s career and ruined his reputation, it was probably just a matter of time before he called time on his playing days. As such, even if he was guilty, did he think he had little to gain from admitting to the charges? Any punishment would take him over the edge anyway. Better to maintain your innocence to stay in the game, no?

On the other hand, Amir was relatively young when he committed the offence and had hopes of continuing his career even after serving his punishment. Therefore his case is unique – a convicted spot fixer who actually came back to play the game he betrayed. Another interesting conundrum is what to think of Sreeshanth, who has been exonerated by courts for his role in the IPL spot fixing scandal but remains un-selected in Team India.

We’ve all done stupid things when we were young. Luckily, in most cases those things do not define our lives. While no one can condone fixing of any kind, cricket fans might one day forgive Amir but will never forget what he has done. Any no ball in the future, however innocent, will raise eyebrows. Any infraction will have harsh consequences and there will be intense scrutiny until he hangs up his bowling boots – that is the cross that Amir bears.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that the upcoming biopic about Azhar puts some of the old ghosts to rest, instead of raising others.



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