Cricket's 20 Darkest Days: The Biggest Scandals and Shocks in the World Game

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

Cricket's 20 Darkest Days: The Biggest Scandals and Shocks in the World Game

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    Although international cricket has a rich and glittering history, the game has also seen its reputation and integrity severely tested at various times.

    The sport's finest moments are, of course, the aspect we'd prefer to remember, but an array of both distasteful and shocking episodes have regularly threatened to damage the fabric of the game throughout its history.

    From match-fixing, to drug scandals, to political protests, world cricket has almost endured it all.

    Here, we count down the most significant of those events.


    Note: The following slides present only brief summaries of events, given the scale of the scandals and controversies. You can read more on each event by following urls at the bottom of each slide.

Slap-Gate: Sreesanth and Harbhajan

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    Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

    A match between the Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League in 2008 saw one of cricket's most bizarre scandals unfold.

    During a routine handshake after the match, it was reported that Harbhajan Singh used the back of his hand to slap his Indian teammate Sreesanth across the right side of his face. While video footage of the incident wasn't available, the fast bowler was seen in tears not long after the alleged confrontation. 

    The fallout of the incident between the two national teammates saw Harbhajan banned from the tournament's remaining fixtures, while Sreesanth was criticised for his behaviour during the match which was believed to provoke the controversial off-spinner.

    Sreesanth was still smarting from the incident as recent as last year, alluding toward a cover-up of the real story.


    Further Reading:

    Sreesanth re-opens "slap-gate" and suggests a cover-up, according to ESPN Cricinfo.

    The Hindu documents Sreesanth's Twitter outburst on the saga.

Glenn McGrath's Bitter Clash with Ramnaresh Sarwan

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    Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan clashed famously on the fourth day of a Test between Australia and the West Indies in Antigua in 2003, when a war of words erupted between the two men.

    A bubbling tension had been present between the pair for a couple of overs, which reached boiling point when McGrath made a sexual remark about Sarwan and West Indies' superstar Brian Lara. 

    Sarwan responding with a comment telling the fast-bowler to ask his wife for the answer. McGrath immediately reacted with rage, which was undoubtedly prompted by his partner's struggle with cancer that eventually claimed her life.

    After the match the pair apologised, with both captains doing their best to quell the disharmony between the camps.


    Further Reading:

    McGrath admits the incident shook him up, according to ESPN Cricinfo.

    You can find a video of the incident here.

Kevin Pietersen's Sacking

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    Following a disastrous 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Australia in the 2013-14 Ashes series, England decided to part ways with one of the most influential and controversial identities in the nation's cricketing history.

    Despite his immense talent, team management decided that Kevin Pietersen's presence heightened tension and disharmony within the England dressing room, concluding that his axing would allow a rebuilding side to develop the cultural edge required to return to the top.

    A fallout inevitably ensued, which included public spats between Pietersen and some of his former teammates, as well as an enraged response from the cricketing public who sought transparency from England's governing body.


    Further Reading:

    The Guardian reports Pietersen's feud with Matt Prior.

    An ambiguous statement on Pietersen's axing was released by the England and Wales Cricket Board.


Herschelle Gibbs' Revelations

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    After playing for South Africa for a decade under a bad boy tag, Herschelle Gibbs shocked the cricketing world in 2010 when he published his explosive book, To The Point.

    In it, Gibbs explores his battle with alcohol and a stint in rehabilitation, his marijuana smoking, the six-month ban he received for his part in Hansie Cronje's match-fixing scandal, as well as details of sexual escapades and group sex encounters that featured a number of his South African teammates.

    Gibbs also explains that the team was lead by a "clique" headed by Graeme Smith, that was too powerful for the team's coach at the time, Mickey Arthur.


    Further Reading:

    Gibbs defends his revelations, according to The Daily Telegraph.

    Gibbs explains his reasons for breaking the silence to ESPN Cricinfo


Text-Gate: Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss

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    Gareth Copley/Getty Images

    Kevin Pietersen's rocky relationship with English cricket descending further in 2012, when it emerged the star batsman had sent controversial texts to his South African counterparts about his England team.

    The influential stroke-maker was initially dropped when it was discovered that the texts contained disparaging remarks about England captain Andrew Strauss. 

    Pietersen shrugged off the controversy, insisting it was nothing more than banter. 

    However, a more damning report later emerged, suggesting that the South-African born batsman had passed on information to his opponents about how to specifically bowl to Strauss in order to claim his wicket.

    Pietersen faced exile, before being reinstated into the team under Alastair Cook following Strauss' retirement.


    Further Reading:

    The Metro's report on the texting saga.

    Andrew Strauss lifts the lid on the saga in The Telegraph.

Muttiah Muralitharan's No-Ball Saga in Australia

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    In front of 55,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day in 1995, Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled by umpire Darrell Hair for an illegal bowling action.

    It became the boiling point of a tense summer of cricket in Australia.

    Speculation had preceded the Test, with a minority feeling that Hair was ready to no-ball the spinner, but few thought the idea would come to fruition. However, when the umpire repeatedly no-balled the controversial spinner, shock swept around the famous ground.

    Initially, the Sri Lankans believed that Hair had made the call for a front-foot violation, but when it became clear that was not the case, tensions bubbled over.

    Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga instructed his teammates not to shake hands with Australian players in the subsequent one-day series; the tensions remaining high when the team returned in 1999 that saw Ross Emerson no-ball Muralitharan in Adelaide.


    Further Reading:

    The Melbourne Cricket Club documents the no-ball incident. 

    Chloe Saltau and Andrew Wu remember the day that cricket changed for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Trevor Chappell's Underarm Ball

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    Trevor Chappell's underarm delivery on the final ball of a one-day match against New Zealand in Melbourne in 1981 remains one of the most controversial moments in the game's history.

    With the series locked a 1-1 after the opening two matches, the visitors needed a six from the final delivery of the third match to force a tie and keep the series level.

    As Brian McKechnie walked to the crease, Australian captain Greg Chappell was seen instructing his brother, Trevor, to bowl the ball along the ground to deny McKechnie the chance to send the ball into the stands.

    Trevor obliged, and although wicket-keeper Rod Marsh displayed his obvious displeasure, Australia won the match and went on the claim the series.


    Further Reading:

    Martin Williamson investigates why Greg Chappell instructed his brother to bowl underarm for ESPN Cricinfo.

Shane Warne's Drug Scandal

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    In 2003, Australia's World Cup campaign was temporarily derailed when it was reported that Shane Warne had tested positive to a banned diuretic during his return from a shoulder injury. 

    A naive Warne insisted that he had taken the diuretic to enhance his appearance, given the substance's association with weight loss and fluid drainage.

    However, diuretics are also administered as masking agents for performance enhancing drugs, which left the World Anti-Doping Authority to believe that something more sinister was at play.

    Warne flew home to Australia, missing his nation's successful defence of its 1999 crown, and was slapped with a one-year ban as well.


    Further Reading:

    Cricket Country documents the events of Shane Warne's drug scandal.

    The original story, as reported by BBC

Sydney Test 2008

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    In fading light at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2008, Australia claimed a last-gasp victory over India in what was one of the most heated Tests in history.

    Shocking umpiring decisions marred the match throughout, heightening the strained relations between the teams, to the point where unsavoury celebrations and accusations of racism shattered the glow of a remarkable Australian win.

    Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds' simmering feud continued, leading to Ricky Ponting reporting the off-spinner to the match referee for what he determined to be an extremely racist jibe.

    The visitors' felt aggrieved by Australia's insistence on a contentious low catch to dismiss Sourav Ganguly, as well as the home side's extravagant reactions upon claiming victory.

    That prompted India's captain Anil Kumble to slam Australia's lack of sportsmanship in a manner akin to Bill Woodfull's remarks about "Bodyline" in 1932-33. 

    Harbhajan was later banned for three matches, the visitors threatened to call of the tour, and a notable Australian journalist called for Ricky Ponting to be sacked.


    Further Reading:

    All Out Cricket documents the details of the 2008 Sydney Test

    Peter Roebuck argues why Ricky Ponting should be sacked for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Monkey-Gate: Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh

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    The monkey-gate saga that came to a head in the Sydney Test in 2008 had its origins in India's victory in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20.

    India had defeated Australia in the semi-final before going to triumph over Pakistan in the tournament's finale, seeing the Indian side celebrate with uninhibited jubilation.

    Australia's Andrew Symonds was critical of the manner of India's celebrations, which drew an angry reaction from Harbhajan Singh who hit back at the robust all-rounder.

    When the teams resumed hostilities in a one-day series in India later that year, Symonds was the subject of "monkey" chants from the crowd, with reports also suggesting that Harbhajan had joined the crowd's lead.

    No action was taken at the time, but the issue was the centre of the Sydney Test just months later when the off-spinner made a remark that was interpreted as the same "monkey" slurs levelled at Symonds in India.

    Harbhajan received a three-match ban, but was later acquitted of racist remarks after an appeal hearing had concluded on January 28.


    Further Reading:

    The ABC reports the ban handed to Harbhajan Singh.

    Ricky Ponting claims monkey-gate saga ruined Symonds' career, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Marlon Samuels' Match-Fixing Case

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    In what was a turbulent 12 months for the game, Marlon Samuels was charged with misconduct after bribery and match-fixing allegations were levelled at the West Indian batsman.

    The charges were founded upon an investigation into the West Indies Cricket Board's investigation into incidents surrounding Samuels' dealings with bookmakers ahead of a One Day International against India in Nagpur in 2007.

    Excerpts of telephone conversations between Samuels and bookmaker Mukesh Kochchar were obtained, indicating that the West Indian had provided detailed match information.

    Samuels denied the claims.

    However, despite a recommendation from a West Indies committee that the batsman should not be banned, the ICC enforced a two-year exile on the West Indian.


    Further Reading:

    Report of the charges, courtesy of the Times of India.

    The BCC reports the ICC's decision to ban Samuels.

IPL Spot-Fixing

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    Gautam Singh/Associated Press

    In 2013, Delhi Police arrested Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan of the Rajasthan Royals on the charges of spot-fixing matches of the Indian Premier League.

    The accused had been thought to be a part of a large betting and organised crime syndicate, responsible for altering the proceedings of several IPL fixtures.

    Following an extensive report from Ravi Sawani, who led the Board of Control for Cricket in India's probe into the scandal, board president N Srinivasan and vice-presidents Arun Jaitley and Niranjan Shah handed Sreesanth and Chavan life bans from the sport, while Amit Singh, the Gujarat cricketer-turned-bookie, got a five-year ban.

    Chandila has been given until March 12 to defend the charges against him.


    Further Reading:

    ESPN Cricinfo's report of Sreesanth's life ban.

    NDTV Sports' report on Chandila's case.

Pakistan's Spot-Fixing

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    In 2010, the International Cricket Council moved to suspend Pakistan's Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt on allegations of spot-fixing during the team's Test against England at Lord's earlier that year.

    The trio were alleged to have received bribes from a bookmaker for carrying out specific on-field actions, such as deliberate no-balls at pre-organised times.

    After a five-week long saga, the three players were handed life-time bans by the ICC for their actions, before the matter was moved to the British Crown courts as a criminal case. 

    The findings of the trial saw Butt given two-and-a-half years in prison, while Asif and Amir were sentenced two one year and six months in jail respectively.

    During the investigations, it was also heard that members of Pakistan's team had deliberately under-performing in earlier matches in an effort to have Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi sacked from his position with the hope that Butt would be named captain in all three formats.


    Further Reading:

    Jail sentences for Pakistan's trio, as reported by ESPN Cricinfo.

    The story of the undermining of Shahid Afridi by Cricbuzz.



'John the Bookmaker'

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Australia's Shane Warne and Mark Waugh found themselves embroiled in a match-fixing controversy in 1998, when it was uncovered that the pair had accepted money to provide pitch and weather information to an Indian bookmaker in 1994-95. 

    The incident had initially been kept in-house by the Australian Cricket Board, with both players fined internally; the ACB believing that the pair's prior accusations of bribery against Pakistan's Saleem Malik had damaged Warne and Waugh's credibility.

    Yet, when the story broke during the 1998-99 Ashes series, the actions of the board and the players were widely condemned by the public and media alike.

    Both players denied providing team selection and tactical information, insisting that they had never accepted money to alter the outcome of a match. Following further hearings in 1999, the International Cricket Council declared that it would take no further action on the incident. 


    Further Reading:

    Malcolm Conn, the journalist who broke the story, looks back at how it unfolded with ESPN Cricinfo

    David Hopps and Greg Baum document the story at the time for The Guardian.

Bob Woolmer's Death

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    ANDRES LEIGHTON/Associated Press

    During the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was tragically found dead at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica.

    Initially believed to be the result of a heart attack, Woolmer's death quickly became the subject of a murder investigation, when pathologist Ere Seshaiah concluded that Woolmer had died of asphyxia via manual strangulation.

    The cricketing world immediately went into mourning, with Woolmer's death and subsequent investigation marring the game's marquee limited-overs event.

    When the inquest surrounding Woolmer's death concluded, an open verdict was reached, an 11-member panel unable to decide the true cause of the coach's fatality. 


    Further Reading:

    Mark Townsend investigates "The murder that never was" for The Guardian.

    The Scotsman's report of the inquest into Woolmer's death.

Terror Attack in Pakistan in 2009

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    B.K.Bangash/Associated Press

    Pakistan's future as a destination was thrown into serious jeopardy in 2009, when masked terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan team bus on its way to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore in March. 

    The attack, which saw Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paravitarana receive minor injuries, killed six security men and two civilians.

    The Lahore Test was immediately abandoned and the tour called off, as a time when grave concerns were held for the players' safety.

    The Sri Lankan team was evacuated from the Gaddafi stadium and taken to a nearby airbase.

    While terrorist attacks had taken place around cricket's periphery before, the attack on the Sri Lankan team marked the first occasion in which players themselves were targeted. 

    The event was also the first attack on an international sporting team since Palestinian terrorist had killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.


    Further Reading:

    A report of the terrorist attack from ESPN Cricinfo.

    The Telegraph reported the arrest of the mastermind of the attack.

Cronje, Mailk and Azharuddin: The Match-Fixing Scandal of 2000

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    The most infamous match-fixing scandal of all occurred over a decade ago in 2000, when Delhi Police charged South African captain Hansie Cronje with fixing his team's One Day Internationals against India that March. 

    What followed was the biggest scandal the cricketing world has seen.

    Cronje initially denied all allegations of wrong-doing, but with evidence mounting, reversed his position and admitted his guilt to the South African board's managing director, Ali Bacher. 

    In June that year, a number of Cronje's former teammates testified that they'd received offers from the South African captain to throw matches for lucrative sums of money. 

    During the same period, Pakistan's Saleem Malik and Ata-ur-Rehman were found guilty of fixing matches and handed life bans from the game (Malik's was later dropped). 

    Cronje then accused Mohammad Azharuddin of introducing him to the bookmaker that asked him to throw a match, to which further investigations found Azharuddin guilty of match fixing.

    Both Cronje and Azharuddin were hit with life bans from the sport. Cronje died in a plane crash in 2002, although suspicions remain over whether wrong-doing was involved in his death.


    Further Reading:

    ESPN Crininfo chronicles the world's most infamous match-fixing scandal.

    Cronje's death, as reported by The Telegraph.




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    The notorious "Bodyline" series between Australia and England in 1932-33 remains the most infamous occurrence in cricket's history.

    Designed specifically by Douglas Jardine to halt the prolific run-scoring of Australia's Sir Donald Bradman, the tactic involved relentless short-pitched bowling aimed at the head and body of the batsman, while deploying the bulk of the team's fielders behind square on the leg-side.

    While the laws of the game didn't stipulate that such a tactic couldn't be used, Australia saw England's approach as a grotesque violation of sportsmanship, which saw a riot narrowly averted when tensions reached their peak in the Adelaide Test in January.

    Relations between the two nations became increasingly frayed throughout the series, and only when World War II arrived in 1939, did Australia and England return to complete co-operation. 

    In 1935, the Marylebone Cricket Club passed laws to prevent the tactic from being used again.


    Further Reading:

    Greig Watson details the history of cricket's greatest controversy for the BBC.

    Martin Williamson provides a brief history of Bodyline for ESPN Cricinfo.

Andy Flower and Henry Olonga Protest Against Mugabe Regime

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    During the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and Zimbabwe, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga put their careers and personal safety on the line by protesting against Robert Mugabe's regime.

    On February 10, prior to one of Zimbabwe's World Cup matches, the team's two most senior players decided to make a media statement and wear black armbands to mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. 

    According to Cricket Country, the ensuing statement read:

    We cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed. We are aware that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans may even die in the coming months through a combination of starvation, poverty and Aids. We are aware that many people have been unjustly imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions about what is happening in the country.

    In all the circumstances we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup. In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe.

    Both players went on to carry out their intentions by wearing black armbands, displaying the most brave and admirable defiance ever witnessed in cricket.


    Further Reading:

    Cricket Country documents the Flower and Olonga's protest.

    The story is also reflected upon by the BBC.

Rebel Tours to South Africa

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    The rebel tours to South Africa staged between 1882 and 1990 are among the most contentious and sensitive issues in cricketing history.

    At a time when South Africa was enduring the Apartheid regime, which had segregated the black and white communities of the country and stripped the rights of black inhabitants, international cricket boards, governments and the United Nations were in immense disapproval of teams venturing to the Rainbow Nation.

    However, with professional cricket undergoing revolution in the early stages of World Series Cricket, many players had grown to resent their national governing bodies, making the recruitment for rebels tours rather straightforward.

    However, despite not recognising the significance of the problem, touring teams received instant condemnation, with the international community viewing the tours as a display of support for the minority Afrikaan rule that had formed in South Africa.

    England, Australia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies all toured during this time, with many of players never representing their country again after returning.


    Further Reading:

    Think Africa Press details the rebel tours between 1982 and 1990.

    ESPN Cricinfo chronicle the final rebel tour in 1990.