Cricket is meant to be a gentleman’s game. Originally a game for English aristocrats, participants are expected to carry themselves in a dignified and honest manner. There should surely never be any cheating, bodyline bowling, sledging, fighting, or excessive appealing.
Furthermore, in a situation when a batsman should be out, but the umpire missed the call, the expectation is that the gentleman would walk themselves for the integrity of the game.
The problem is, the real world rarely upholds such ideals. Especially once money becomes part of the equation. Throughout cricket’s long and storied history, there have been numerous scandals and controversies that have rattled the sport to its core.
Cricket has endured numerous match-fixing scandals, abusive moments between players, ungentlemanly tactics, and even murder. With a new scandal arising every few years, it shouldn’t be long until we have additional events to add to the list.
This guide is meant to provide a brief summary of ten of the most scandalous and significant controversies that have impacted the sport in recent history.
John the Bookmaker
In 1994-95, Australian cricketers Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were caught communicating with an Indian bookie using the moniker “John the Bookmaker.” The two men provided John with information regarding the pitch and the weather in exchange for cash. Waugh received $4,000, while Warne was given $5,000.
They were privately fined by the Australian Cricket Board, and the matter was otherwise dropped. The reason the board chose to sweep the infractions under the rug was because Warne and Waugh had accused Pakistani captain Saleem Malik of attempting to bribe them to throw matches.
If the information about John the Bookmaker got out, it could ruin their credibility as witnesses.
In 1998, the media uncovered the story and made their findings public. The Australian Cricket Board and the two men came under fire from both the press and public.
Most felt that the ACB had been much too lenient with the fine and that the lack of a suspension was disgraceful. Additional hearings and investigations took place, but no further action was taken against the two cricketers.
Bob Woolmer’s Death
Bob Woolmer was a well-known fixture in the world of cricket. He was a cricketer, professional commentator, and a coach. In 2007, he was coaching the Pakistani national team in the Cricket World Cup.
In the tournament, Pakistan had just suffered a shocking elimination at the hands of Ireland, so the coach retired to his Kingston, Jamaica, hotel room.
A few hours after the loss, Bob Woolmer was found dead in that room. The initial belief was that the fifty-eight-year-old man had died from a heart attack. However, further examination revealed that the coach, Bob Woolmer, had actually been strangled to death.
Scotland Yard detectives came to assist the Jamaican authorities in solving the murder, but no progress was made. To this day, Bob Woolmer’s death remains a mystery.
2010 Pakistan Spot-Fixing Scandal
In 2010, a tabloid reporter from the News of the World paper decided to fix a portion of the England vs. Pakistan test series. The reporter was able to persuade three of Pakistan’s players – Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir, and Mohammed Asif – to fix specific moments in the match, with the intention of placing wagers on those exact moments.
Like clockwork, in the final test of the series, Mohammad Amir bowled three straight no-balls, just as they had planned. Scotland Yard detectives then investigated the trio, and they were tried in an English court.
Jail terms were handed down for all three men, plus a fourth named Mazhar Majeed for his role in the scandal.
Next, the International Cricket Council stepped in and put 80 matches that the men had previously competed in on a list of potentially suspicious results. The ICC also handed out punishments, banning Butt for ten years, Asif for seven, and Amir for five.
Hansie Cronje Match Fixing
In 2000, the captain of South Africa’s national team was caught fixing matches. Hansie Cronje was a legend in South African cricket, celebrated for his toughness and talent. Unfortunately, his tenure on the team would end in disgrace.
Indian Police caught Cronje in recorded conversations with an Indian betting syndicate bookie.
Hansie Cronje accepted a $15,000 bribe for himself and offered two of his teammates to underperform in exchange for cash.
The further the investigation went on, the more bribes and participants were uncovered, including India’s captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
Hansie Cronje was stripped of his captaincy and banned from the sport for life. Unfortunately, only two years later, the Cronje was killed in a plane crash. It was a tragic ending to an already disappointing tale.
Trevor Chappell’s Underarm Ball
In 1981, Australia and New Zealand were facing off in the final of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup. It was the third match in a best-of-five series. The two sides were even at one win apiece, and on the final delivery of the game, New Zealand needed six to tie.
That’s when Australia’s captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother to utilize a controversial strategy. It was legal within the rules but went against the moral code that governs cricket and makes it the gentleman’s game.
Rather than bowl like normal, Trevor Chappell used an underarm delivery to roll the ball down the pitch, making it impossible to hit past the boundary for six.
The batsman, Brian McKechnie, threw his bat down in disgust, and the crowd booed. This was well outside the spirit of the game. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, called it the “most disgusting incident in the history of cricket.” To this day, the incident is still discussed as a dark day for the entire game.
Marlon Samuels’ Match Fixing
In 2008, Marlon Samuels was accused of communicating with a bookie and feeding them tactical information regarding the upcoming matches. The police released the transcript of the conversation between the two men, but it is unclear if Samuels received any compensation for the info or engaged in any match-fixing.
It is, however, evident that the West Indies player shared detailed information about the match.
After a twelve-month investigation, the West Indies cricket committee requested that the all-rounder not be banned. Regardless, the International Cricket Council decided to impose a two-year ban. Marlon Samuels maintains his innocence to this day.
IPL Spot-Fixing Scandal
In 2013, the Indian Premier League was rocked when Delhi Police discovered widespread spot-fixing in the tournament. Three players and eleven bookies, who were thought to be members of a huge organized crime syndicate, were arrested.
The three arrested Rajasthan Royals players were Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan, and Ajit Chandila.
The Board of Control launched a probe into the scandal, and an extensive report was compiled by Ravi Sawani, the chief of the anti-corruption unit. The final decision was that Sreesanth and Chavan received lifetime bans from the sport. Amit Singh, another Royals player, was handed a lesser five-year ban.
Terrorist Attack in Pakistan
There are some days when you’d long for the typical match-fixing scandal. In March of 2009, the Lahore Test was scheduled to be played at Gaddafi Stadium between the Pakistan and Sri Lankan national teams.
However, the test would have to be canceled before both teams even reached the pitch.
As the Sri Lankan team’s bus was on its way to the stadium, it was attacked by masked terrorists. Two civilians and six security officers were killed in the attack.
Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera, and Tharanga Paravitarana all received minor injuries. This was the first attack on an international sporting team since the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy.
The “Bodyline” Series
The Bodyline controversy is yet another case of when something allowable in the rules runs in direct conflict with the spirit of the game. This time, the English cricket team was competing against the Australians in Australia in 1932-33.
The home side, led by Donald Bradman, had soundly beaten England in the previous test and was expected to do so again.
That’s when England’s captain, Douglas Jardine, created what came to be known as bodyline tactics. Rather than bowling normal, the fast bowlers began aiming their deliveries at the batsman’s body.
The batsman, in an effort to avoid being pelted, would use the bat to defend themselves, resulting in the ball being hit into the air. Then, the fielders positioned around the batsman would make the catch and dismiss the batsman.
The strategy worked perfectly but caused much controversy. Once again, this was not in the spirit of the gentleman’s game.
But worse yet, players were getting seriously injured.
The Australians were infuriated by the entire ordeal. Eventually, bodyline tactics led to a rule change in which the captain may only place two fielders behind the square leg umpire.
South Africa’s Rebel Tours
In 1970, South Africa was banned from international cricket due to their apartheid laws. Rather than go without the sport, the local cricketing authorities attempted to develop a workaround.
They began recruiting the top international players from the West Indies, England, and Australia to come tour and compete in unsanctioned national team games.
South Africa continued to pay athletes to participate in these “rebel tours” throughout the 1980s, which was the cause of much controversy.
Cricketing authorities from England, West Indies, and Australia finally had enough and responded by issuing bans to players caught playing in these rebel games. In fact, several international careers were ended due to the rebel tours.
In 1989, a group of English cricketers attempted to tour South Africa, but they were met with massive protests. The tour was canceled, and international cricket remained banned in the country. Eventually, Nelson Mandela ascended into power, apartheid was ended, and South Africa was re-admitted into international cricket competitions.
As you can see, cricket is a game that’s often in conflict with the idealistic view of itself. Many of the most controversial moments in the game’s history were perfectly legal within the rules.
But that’s what makes this sport special. It’s not just about following the rules; it’s about holding yourself to a certain standard and not disgracing the game.
Beyond disagreements on what actions should be allowable within the field of play, cricket has also had issues with match-fixing.
There have been numerous instances of athletes colluding with bookies to either share information, fix specific spots in the match, or rig entire contests. These have led to widespread arrests, as well as several lifelong bans from the sport.
While cricket has undoubtedly experienced their fair share of scandals and controversies, for the most part, they are relatively mild compared to some other sports. But this game holds itself to a higher standard, and so tactics and ideas that would be seen as clever or smart in any other contest are frowned upon here.
And it’s that relationship between the spirit of the game and the actual rulebook that creates so many controversies while simultaneously making cricket special.