Shakib Al Hasan got away quite lightly
Shakib Al Hasan cavorting with bookie Deepak Aggarwal, for which he has been slapped with a two-year ban last week, is painful reminder that the malaise of corruption has still not been entirely eliminated from top-level cricket.
Shakib is now ineligible to play against India, which could affect Bangladesh seriously in the T20 as well as Test series’s. He is their premier player by far and was the lynchpin of the team, apart from being captain.
His absence affects Bangladesh adversely in the two series unless the other players can remarkably make up for his Shakib’s absence. But the issue currently is not so much the outcome of the bilateral series’s between Bangladesh and India, but what Shakib’s misdemeanor means for the future of the sport.
The charge against Shakib is not of match or spot fixing, but of withholding information from the BCB (and ICC) of approaches made to him on Whatsapp by Aggarwal. There is a huge difference between the two sins of commission, of course. But all said, this is a major transgression and I think Shakib got away quite lightly. He is not a rookie, having been around for more than a decade, and can’t be ignorant of the crises cricket has gone through because of attempts by the underworld and other nefarious elements to destroy the sport by enticing players into corruption.
Two things emerge as the most concerning from the Shakib saga which should occupy the minds of administrators, the fraternity of players and law-enforcing agencies as they come to terms with the present controversy and work out strategies for the future.
One, it is clearly not just fringe players who are vulnerable and therefore more approachable by bookies and such as has widely been understood through some episodes in the past.
If anything, senior players and captains have more value for bookies and fixers since they are better informed of team’s tactics or in positions of influence to steer a game in a certain direction. They are prime targets.
What’s more disturbing, however, is not the temerity of bookie Aggarwal to reach out to a senior pro, but the relative ease with which he managed this without being found out for so many months.
That Shakib would continue the Whatsapp conversation with Aggarwal over several months shows that the fear about punishment among players for dalliances with bookies is not as intense as the cricket establishment would have imagined.
It has been argued that Shakib just strung along with Aggarwal without obliging him. But even if true, it is of little solace in the context of what cricket has already suffered and what such reckless behaviour could mean for it in the future. He is arguably the best all-rounder in the world today, unarguably the best-ever player from Bangladesh, and was also the captain of his country. There is surely some responsibility that comes with this exalted status.
After the Hansie Cronje story broke in circa 2000, taking down in its wake not just the late South Africa captain but several other stellar players, cricket has been intermittently hit by similar scandal, albeit not of the same scale.
As a custodian of the game — particularly seniors/captains — it was not just important, but obligatory for Shakib to inform authorities about the overtures made to him by bookie Aggarwal. By not doing so, he was leaving the door open for corruption even if he was not directly involved in fixing.
Fact is, despite measures being put in place in all countries as mandated by the ICC, cases of match-fixing, spot-fixing and the like have erupted every now and then in the past two decades. Most have been attributed to the proliferation of T20 leagues.
There have been disastrous consequences in some instances. The IPL corruption case of 2013 brought down a few careers and earned a couple of teams a ban. It also led to a meltdown of the Indian cricket administration, and left many big players with a dubious reputation.
The fight against corruption has to be fought on several fronts. Anti-corruption units have to be ever vigilant. In countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, legalising betting would be of great help provided laws punishing transgressions are strict and enforced. But the buck ultimately stops with the player — his belief system and sense of integrity. There is no way any sport can be cleansed of corruption if a player decides he wants to be.