08 August 2014

There’s a way to fix spot-fixers, match-fixers and nation-fixers

I believe that it is possible to argue that anyone and everyone are in the pay of some dreadful creature, organization or political force.  This is why some otherwise intelligent and even likeable people in Trotskyite organizations spend more time calling each other ‘running dogs of imperialism’ than doing anything about imperialism.  Ralph Nader, US presidential candidate from the Green Party, for example, is blamed by Democrats for helping  Republican win the Presidency (‘Nader broker the anti-Bush vote!’ they claim.  Well, it is not as though the Democrats themselves are any different from the Republicans.  Check out what Obama has done, is doing and plans to do in Iraq and Afghanistan for example. 

The point is, there is a way in which anyone who does not hold your views can be made out to be an absolute villain.  By the same token anyone can defend what he/she does and even claim that the worst crimes against humanity were actually strategized to benefit all humankind and indeed that such objectives were in fact achieved. 

Talk is talk, though.  Claims can be made.  They can be made believable too.  In the end, however, ‘belief’ comes down to an individual assessing available information and arriving at conclusion.  The problem is that we never have access to all the information that’s out there so that we can make a decent enough judgment.  We got to make do with limited facts, less than perfect analytical skills and navigate a maze of lies, decoys, half-truths and advertisements blinded by spectacle as well as misleading and concealing drabness.  We have to factor in the reality that yesterday’s trusted comrade-at-arms is today’s flake and tomorrow’s enemy.  We have to understand that the forces arrayed against are not just numerous and powerful, but have great purchasing power and are often endowed with that potent weapon called ‘lack of conscience’. 

It is a tough world out there.  We can’t win all the time. Indeed, we would be lucky to score one or two victories over a single lifetime.  The least we can do, in many situations, is to ensure that the chances of being taken for a ride are minimized.  This is not easy since unsteady information foundations don’t make for decent enough extrapolation and can even produce nothing more than flights of fancy.  How do we do this?

A friend of mine wrote to me this morning, ‘The best preventive to taking off on flights of fancy is I guess to make predictions instead of explaining events after they occur. When we see suspicious signs we should predict outcomes and check whether we are consistently right or wrong or just getting random success.’ By way of explaining, he used cricket and the match-fixing controversy.  

He opines: ‘I have the impression that when Sri Lanka fails spectacularly in a match there is a (coincidental?) juxtaposition, namely, Sangakkara and Mahela both do badly, and Ajantha Mendis and Lasith Malinga (if they are both playing) bowl waywardly.  Dilhara Fernando is generally a member of losing teams.  Haven’t checked this with great care but I have a memory of something like this occurring frequently.’ 

The stats buffs out there can check this out I am sure.  There’s only so much room one can make for ‘coincidences’.  If there’s a pattern, then we are immediately alerted.  It is very subtle of course and one has to be nuanced in ones assessment for this very reason.  It is not easy to read body language, but it is not impossible to assume, for instance, that someone in the pay of a bookie would react in a particular kind of way as opposed to someone who is genuine.  Not everyone can wear a disguise well.  There are slips.  Wigs come off, the make up melts and the true contours of conscience and guilt surface at unexpected moments in unexpected ways.  

The more we see, the more we learn.  After some time, we discover patterns.  It is no different from tracking terrorists.   You have to be alert.  You have to use all resources at your disposal.  These is the age of surveillance.  People get caught.  These are days of plea bargaining.  Today’s benefactor could very well be the guy who rats on your tomorrow.  There are lots of third umpires out there.  Think Hansie Cronje. Imagine him alive today.  He is scarred.  In life. In death. 

My friend also observes that while inconsistency is not a crime, consistent inconsistency is.  He points to Tendulkar, Sehwag, Bevan and Imran as those who by sheer power of consistency stump match-fixing allegations.  On the other hand, even such a performer can get away with a bit of ‘spot-fixing’ or the play of a cricketing moment.   

We have to be alert.  We have to watch faces. Behaviour patters. Subtle changes in these.  A noticeable shift in preference of company and recreational choice.  Noticeable silences.  Sudden changes of fortune.  Property acquisition that is hard to account for given known sources of income.  Investments in shady operations (scams such as the ones run by Golden Key and Sakvithi were essentially about money-laundering).  Inability to look you in the eye the way you were looked in the eye before. 
Crooks slip.  When and where we cannot tell.  If we can make them slip, all the better.  Vigilance is the most effective tripper or kakul maattuwa.  It might seem unfair to subject our cricketing heroes to this kind of surveillance, but then again, this is an unforgiving world where professionalism ought to include an unwavering resolve to play the game right.  Spot-fixing is certainly good money but it is not as though today’s cricketers are destitute! 

Prediction helps. We have general idea about skill levels. We all have memory. We know what was said, where and when.  We can tell when tongues bend to shine different ‘truths’. 

My friend offers a prediction: We will do pretty well in the world cup or other matches that we are to face soon. Reason: players will know that they are being watched with some suspicion after the various allegations and will do their best and be really unlikely to throw. And if our team genuinely does its best, we should beat any other around these days.’  Let’s see.

I want Sri Lanka to win the next World Cup.  I also want to make sure that some two-bit traitor is not bartering our national assets for a song or poisoning our paddy fields for a few dollars and a couple of holidays or fattening a bank account to help the tobacco industry.  Things like that. 

*This was first published in the Daily News, September 15, 2010