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Heath Streak Shocker a Reminder of Cricket's Dark Underbelly

Heath Streak Shocker a Reminder of Cricket's Dark Underbelly

Heath Streak has admitted to five breaches of the ICC's anti-corruption code spread over various tournaments in a 15 month-period.

Former Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak being banned for 8 years by the ICC on grounds of graft has come like a bolt from the blue, usurping the headlines and high drama of the ongoing Indian Premier League, and also highlighting that the fight against match-fixing and corruption in the sport is far from over.

According to the ICC, after protracted denials, Streak admitted to five breaches of the parent body’s anti-corruption code spread over various tournaments in a 15 month-period starting September 2017. This included the Bangladesh Premier League, Afghanistan Premier League, 2018 tri-series involving Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, 2018 Afghanistan and Zimbabwe series, and IPL 2018 during the time he was bowling coach of Kolkata Knight Riders.

Compared to the IPL, all other fixtures in which Heath was found guilty of misdemeanor are small in scale and scope, but this doesn’t obscure the fact that corruption in cricket remains deep-seated. If anything, it shows that those without scruples will engage in malpractices whenever and wherever possible.

The ICC says Heath was in cahoots with a bookie Mr X (whose name has been withheld by the ICC) to whom he not only passed `inside information’, but also facilitated — or tried to facilitate introduction — to four players, including a `national captain’.

These names are held in suspense – at least from public knowledge – for the time being, but the case nonetheless exposes that behind all the brouhaha about the undying romance and growing appeal for the sport, the underbelly of cricket remains as grisly as it was two decades back when the biggest match-fixing scam came to light.

Subsequently too, scams have erupted, though not of similar magnitude. However, what should worry administrators following the Streak case is that corruption in the sport may have become bigger, what with so many tournaments sprouting up, especially in the T20 format.

More players and more people are involved in these tournament, making it difficult for the administration to keep pace with mischief makers. Without taking anything away from the efforts of the anti-corruption unit which brought this particular case to book, that such shenanigans were taking place over a 15-month period shows that anti-corruption measures put in place by the ICC – and by extension all the cricket boards – have to be made still more robust.

As mentioned, involves not just a bookie, and a former national captain in Streak but also four, possibly more players, of whom one is a also a national captain going by the ICC’s statement. This is indicative of how wide and deep the tentacles of corruption and match-fixing may be spread in cricket.

We probably don’t have the exact number of people involved as yet. For lack of hard evidence, which can have legal ramifications if the case goes to court, some names may have been withheld. Also, going by the insidious manner in which Streak conducted his nefarious activities, it raises fears whether there aren’t more such black sheep embedded in the game.

That bookies abound in sport is hardly new. That some players will be susceptible to temptation is not startling either. And yet, some corruption stories carry a sledgehammer blow when they come to light because the guilty person is someone who was believed to be above reproach.

Streak’s fall from grace evokes the same shock and dismay as when the 2000 match-fixing scam, which featured some of the biggest names in the game then, was discovered. The only difference is that Streak, unlike those named in the 2000 case, has been long retired from the game.

He has arguably been Zimbabwe’s greatest cricketer, not just by stats, but heroic performances in crises. He has been former captain, and among the most respected players in the world during his playing days. Only Andy Flower could be considered on the same pedestal

Streak’s career was unfortunately cut short because of his country’s volatile politics, which messed up cricket administration and selection in Zimbabwe. This led to a lot of players either leaving the sport, or the country itself. Streak was one of those affected who stayed behind. Did this have any bearing on his subsequent behavior? Possibly, but can’t serve as excuse.

He returned to the game after retirement, for a couple of stints as coach in his own country, and later with several teams across the world. There is no evidence of him having suffered financially. By all accounts, he came from well-to-do background, made decent income as a professional player even if Zimbabwe were not the most in-demand team on the circuit, and after retirement, found many well-paying coaching assignments.

For him to have sold his soul for a couple of bitcoins, a cellphone and a few pieces of silver, is a shocker. It not only leaves his own reputation in tatters, besmirches the sport he excelled in. In a philosophical sense, it also brings out the tragedy of the human condition.

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