Cricket’s biggest gambling controversies

Cricket has a global reputation as a gentleman’s sport, one underpinned by the old proverb it matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game. However, anyone who has watched top flight test and one-day cricket over recent years will know that there is little room for sentiment and “good form” such as walking in the modern professional game. 

It’s led to plenty of controversy and to some damaged reputations along the way. Just look at the Steve Smith ball tampering incident only last year. Those with long memories will be quietly amused by the righteous indignation shown by England fans when Smith returned after serving his ban given that Michael Atherton did something very similar in the 1990s.

With controversies like these, though, there are always degrees of seriousness. Shining the ball with sweat is OK, scuffing it up artificially is not. It all comes down to wanting to win at all costs. That’s what puts the gambling controversies we will discuss here into a whole different league, as these involve players who have put personal gain above the sport and the will to win. 


Gambling in cricket

Sports betting is becoming more and more popular with every passing year. This is particularly the case in the USA due to changing legislation, but it also applies the world over. Sports fans have access to dozens of online betting sites and can read bookmaker reviews of the most popular ones to choose which best meets their needs. That’s a positive thing – it adds to the spectator’s enjoyment and involvement when he or she has a personal stake in the outcome and it has created a booming and prosperous industry.

However, there is always a downside to financial success. Any business, online or otherwise, that generates millions in transactions is certain to attract the attention of scammers, fraudsters and out-and-out criminals seeking a slice of the pie. So it is that shady syndicates have sought to influence match outcomes or events so that they can place their bets and make immense profits. 

All they need in order to succeed is some inside help to ensure a game goes a certain way, or a particular event happens, for example a bowler bowling a particular number of no-balls in a given over. It’s clear that this sort of behavior destroys the integrity of everyone involved. Match fixing carries the harshest of penalties, but still, there are some who have been tempted by the quick money on offer as the following cautionary tales demonstrate.


Hansie Cronje

The man who could have gone down in history as one of South Africa’s greatest captains is instead remembered as cricket’s biggest cheat. He was introduced to Indian businessman Sanjay Chawla in 1996 and over subsequent years provided inside information regarding team selection in exchange for cash and gifts. 

The “deal” gradually escalated and things came to a head in the fourth test against England at Centurion, now known at the “leather jacket test.”  The game seemed to be drifting towards a draw after three days of rain, but Cronje declared early, setting England a very gettable target on the final day.

At the time, Cronje was praised for doing something a little different to breathe life into the game. However, it seemed out of character given his usually risk averse nature. England reached the target with relative ease, and it was later revealed that Cronje had “sold his soul” for a leather jacket, his reward for ensuring an England win. The disgraced captain received a life ban and died just two years later in suspicious circumstances.


Salim Malik

Another former test captain, Salim Malik’s magical batting abilities have been largely forgotten as a result of the disgrace that cast a shadow over his career. In 2000, anti-corruption investigations found Salim guilty of match fixing and handed him a lifetime ban. Details of the exact nature of the match fixing have remained sealed, but they related to activities during the mid 1990s Pakistan tours to South Africa and Australia. 


One thing that is clear from the report and its consequences is that corruption was rife in Pakistan cricket in the 90s. Salim was one of two players banned for life, while six received fines. To this day, Salim cannot participate in any cricket-related activity, meaning his dream of opening a cricket academy remains unfulfilled. Given that other players have been given second chances, he feels he has been treated unfairly, and told Pakpassion “I was nearing my international career’s end, so, I was made the scapegoat. They had to find one or two scapegoats.”


Shane Warne and Mark Waugh

One of the key witnesses against Salim Malik in the 1990s was Shane Warne. However, when he came under the microscope himself just two years later, questions were asked about the reliability of his testimony. He and team mate Mark Waugh received money from a bookmaker in exchange for information about the pitch and conditions.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect to this case is that the Australian cricket authorities sought to cover it up rather than take action. Even today, it is treated as something of a joke, and Ricky Ponting even sang the Barmy Army song that references the incident on live TV. 


Marlon Samuels

Another player who managed to survive a gambling controversy was West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels. He was charged with misconduct after the cricket authorities intercepted telephone conversations between him and a bookmaker in 2007. These suggested that Samuels had provided match information in exchange for money. 

Samuels always denied the charges, but he was found guilty and banned for two years. He returned to the team after his ban and went on to play in more than 70 test matches and 200 ODIs. 


Mervyn Westfield

Corruption can happen anywhere and at all levels of cricket. In 2009, Mervyn Westfield was a 21 year old English fast bowler trying to establish his place in the Essex first team. Three years later, he was arrested on suspicion of ‘match irregularities” and admitted to deliberately bowling wides in exchange for £6,000.

Westfield served four months in prison and was banned from playing cricket for life. Today, he spends time touring schools and educating the next generation on the dangers of corruption in sport.

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