The crisis in cricket threatens the future of the oldest organised team sport1. The revelations of the King Commission (King 2000) in South Africa included the admission by the former South African captain, Hansie Cronje, that he had accepted bribes for fixing matches and suborned the corruption of other team members. The Qayyum Report (Qayyum 1998) in Pakistan found the former Pakistani captain, Salim Malik, to have fixed matches and reported a failure to cooperate with its enquiry by another former captain, Wasim Akram, among others. The investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation of the Indian Police Force (CBI 2000) pointed to extensive corruption involving among others the former Indian captain, Mohammed Azharuddin, and also alleged the improper involvement of other international players, including former England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand captains and players of Australia, with bookmakers. Most recently, the report (Condon 2001) of the investigation commissioned by the governing body of world cricket, the International Cricket Council (ICC), and led by the former UK Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, has failed to draw a line under the current scandals. Referring to a “climate of silence, apathy, ignorance and fear,” the comprehensive report suggests evidence of continuing corruption. All of this has seriously undermined the credibility of the international game.
In the short term it is clear that cricket has to deal with the cheats. Given the relatively small number of genuine stars in the game, this process will inevitably prove difficult. The reluctance of national cricket boards to take decisive and immediate action against alleged culprits even where they have admitted talking to bookmakers, highlights the dilemma of the authorities. Wedded to a not unnatural concern to retain those stars that draw the crowds, there is also genuine sympathy for individuals whose careers may have been distinguished and whose lapses may by comparison have been minor.
In the longer term, there is need to reform the structure of the international game to ensure that the conditions that encouraged cheating to flourish are eliminated. In this paper we argue that the fundamental problem is the meagre financial rewards received by the top international cricketers. Condon (2001) is explicit in acknowledging poor pay of cricketers as a leading candidate explanation for the spread of corruption. Moreover, press reports suggest that this view has already been accepted by some senior figures in the cricket hierarchy. The chairman of the MCC, Lord Alexander of Weedon, reportedly called for cricketers to be paid more so that they are less likely to be tempted by match-fixing offers (BBC website, 17 November 2000). However the response of the England and Wales Cricket Board shows that acceptance is not widespread: "The England and Wales Cricket Board has noted the remarks reportedly made by MCC President, Lord Alexander of Weedon, that international cricketers should be paid more so that they are less likely to be tempted by offers to be involved in match-fixing. The ECB Management Board takes the view that the pay of many international cricketers has increased significantly in recent times and they are now well rewarded for their skill and expertise and that, in any event, there is no justification for any international cricketer to succumb to corruption. (ECB Press Release 18 November 2000)" We believe high salaries would be a significant disincentive to cheating, as we believe it is in most other major sports. The incentive to cheat is increased when there is an imbalance between the financial status of the players and the financial returns to the sport as whole. In cricket the top players earn a much smaller fraction of the total revenues generated by their efforts than is the case in other major international sports.
Low pay for international cricketers is the consequence of an organisational structure that uses the revenue from popular international matches to subsidise domestic competitions and that undermines the bargaining position of top players over pay. Removing the cross-subsidy might provide a temporary respite, but since competitions are not capable of generating enough income to cover costs they would have to be severely curtailed. This in turn would limit the supply of new talent coming into the game and hence undermine its long term future.
We believe that there is an alternative way to deal with the underpayment of professional cricket players. In most sports outside of North America income and thereby professional salaries are boosted by the existence of international club competitions that complement the international representative game. The introduction of international club cricket would in our view add a significant dimension to international cricket that would command spectator and media attention. Competition among international clubs for the best players would be a sure way to bid up the salaries of international cricketers. Such a competition could operate alongside and sustain the integrity and durability of a flourishing Test game.