Cricket

Published on October 25th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta

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The Pune Pitch Curator Controversy

Make sure that limited overs games end up as monumental run-scoring fests. Make sure that in Test matches, the ball spins like a top from Day 1.

Former Maharashtra pace bowler Pandurang Salgaoncar, the former curator of Maharashtra Cricket Association, seems to have done all that. He has been pulled up for creating a ‘poor pitch’ during the India-Australia Test series, and now has been ‘stung’ after curating a belter ahead of the India-New Zealand ODI.

And if the sting operation of India Today is to be believed, he has been ready to share inside information and even grant ‘favours’ at the behest of bookies.

True, immediately after the news hit the media channels the man in question has been suspended. There is hardly any doubt that Salgaoncar will be sacked and enquiries and charge sheets will follow.

However, this development does point virtual fingers at the proverbial can of worms. One curator has been exposed by the well-crafted sting. The question remains, is it a one-off incident or is cricket rife with such dealings.

Before continuing further, let me stress on one aspect. This is not the case of huge amount of money floating about and the once-gentleman’s-game losing its soul in these decadent days. In a curious coincidence, in these very pages and on the very morning that this sting was disclosed, we had published the story of the pitch being tampered in favour of the home side at The Oval, in a Test between England and Australia, in 1896.

Cricket is a complicated game. There are enormous number of factors and multiple manners in which the result can be influenced.

And down the years, there have been many many incidents and attempts at subterfuge. Curators, umpires, selectors, officials and numerous other peripheral individuals are involved in very close proximity with the game, and information for the benefit of the shady characters of the betting world can flow from all these quarters.

In some cases, these individuals involved with the game in peripheral but close quarters can also do their bit to influence the result. It is naïve to think that this has not been done earlier. It surely has, perhaps many, many times more than officially known.

In some ways, it does not seem that surprising that the shady dealings of such an unscrupulous individual have suddenly been brought to light. It is more surprising that we don’t come across more such exposures.

Is Salgaoncar alone? I don’t think so. There may be many, many more in various capacities, involved in the fringes of the game, who are carrying on underhand dealings like this. It will come as a huge surprise if that is not the case.

And no, this is not really a reason to fall out of love with the game either, pointing at the various shady dealings associated with cricket. That is a true knee-jerk reaction. The game has survived and flourished for years and years in spite of these shady characters. It is too great a sport to be ruined this way.

What the sting operation does, though, is to point out certain areas in the game where reinforcements are required in terms of stricter regulations, control and oversight.

Every great sport does come with an unavoidable underbelly. And it is operations like this that help in cleansing the rubbish heaps from the mix. They serve as warning bells for the seedy parasitical beings associated with the game to lie low for a while, and also to the authorities to tighten their security to clamp down on such miscreants.

In this context, the sting operation by India Today has been truly invaluable.

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About the Author

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Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.



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