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Pakistan ex-captain Rashid Latif has been a central figure in implicating some of the top players of his country in match-fixing. Much of Latif's charges have been borne out in events of the past few months. As far back as '97, Latif had maintained something was rotten in subcontinental cricket. That included the establishment and players with dubious links with bookies. His charges against Pakistanis prompted the setting up of the Justice Qayyum inquiry. Now Latif is willing to testify before the King Commission on the '95 Mandela Trophy finals, which he claims were "fixed". In an interview with Murali Krishnan, he talks on the current crisis facing Indian cricket. Significantly, without accusing Sachin Tendulkar, Latif identifies him as one who knows all about match-fixing and says he should be questioned thoroughly. Excerpts:
Why do Indian cricketers call you up at home, as you have said?
Well, I know most of them. Some of them are good friends. Some wanted information, others just wanted to chat. Ajay Jadeja and Azhar still call me. In fact, just a couple of days ago, Jaddu called me up.
Cronje has named Azhar as the one who sent a bookie, Mukesh Gupta, to him. Are you aware of Azhar's involvement in match-fixing?
Azhar bhai... woh marwa dega sabko (he will take everyone down with him), if they go after him. He is a hero. He knows a lot.
Do you approve of Azharuddin playing the minority card?
That is inexcusable. After captaining India for over 10 years, he is stupid to use this excuse. That is bad. After all you have other players too like Wasim Jaffer, an opening batsman, and Mohammad Kaif in the Indian team. But he has subsequently apologised. You must forgive him because people do make mistakes.
Everyone seems to suspect Azhar's involvement. Why is that?
It might be true. But that is not my job or yours. It is for the CBI to investigate and get to the bottom of it all.
And what about Prabhakar? What do you think of his hidden video recordings exposing all and sundry?
He is the biggest badmaash of them all. He is completely involved and in the thick of it (match-fixing). He has made a fool of everyone by this video exercise. And remember that all the people he has interviewed are hand in glove with him.
Do you think there was a bigger hand behind his secret recordings?
The former BCCI president, I.S. Bindra, was behind it all. It was his politics at play. For Prabhakar, things were bad already. He had lost the election he contested and wanted to explore other ways to bounce back. But it has backfired. It is a failed mission.
Do you agree with the perception of some investigative agencies, like the Mumbai police and DRI, that Prabhakar is involved in match-fixing?
He played a game in 1994 where this supposed incident of being offered Rs 25 lakh took place. And till 1997, Prabhakar didn't say a word! Even in 1997, he did not take the name of the cricketer who offered him this bribe. Now he says it's Kapil Dev. There is no substance to this statement.
Why do you think he was quiet about it all this while?
Because he was involved. That match against Pakistan (for which he was supposedly offered Rs 25 lakh) finally never took place. Remember, no cricketer barring Hansie Cronje has acknowledged that he has taken money for fixing a cricket match.
Are you personally aware of Prabhakar's involvement?
Look at the Kanpur one-day international in 1994 where he, along with Mongia, used negative tactics and were subsequently suspended for three matches. Why wasn't there an inquiry then?
But why do you think they did it?
It was done deliberately. India was winning that match, Prabhakar hit a century and Mongia was on 25 or so and both were not out. (Still) India lost the match.
That's something the CBI has to investigate. What further information does one need? It was a game where both batsmen were in good nick and suddenly a winnable match is lost. It is important for the CBI to find out from the BCCI why they were recalled to the team immediately. Isn't that strange?
What can you say about the underworld's hand in match-fixing?
I won't say anything on that. These are matters which cannot be brought on record. I know everything about their roles but would not like to talk about it. And anyway, I would not like to talk about their connections. Let me tell you that bookies are more active in India than in Sharjah.
Have you yourself ever been approached by a bookie?
Yes, on the phone. An Indian (bookie) phoned me but never met me personally. It was during a Test match in Lord's during '93. He offered me £20,000 to not allow Pakistan's total to cross 300. Pakistan were 290 for nine overnight and I was with Ata-ur-Rehman.
The problem is that the CBI is finding it difficult to get concrete evidence to back claims of match-fixing...
How can that be? It should then change its name if it finds itself unable to get anywhere. How can it not get proof, that's impossible to conceive! They should bring the suspected players to the police station and grill them. The truth will come tumbling out like what happens in Indian movies....
Which Indian cricketer do you think should be questioned?
The hero in your country. Sachin.
Yes, absolutely. He knows everything.