Heal Thyself

For cricket’s corrupt forces, the game in India is ripe for the picking
Heal Thyself
Heal Thyself

In the hour of its latest infamy, the easy temptation to bury Pakistan cricket is too great. Even former ICC CEO Malcolm Speed contends that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), having become home to vested interests and sick with venality, is incapable of curing itself and punishing its culpable cricketers. The prognosis has prompted some to suggest that the only acceptable moral response from Pakistan would be a ban of its team from international cricket till it furnishes proof of redeeming itself.

But more considerate voices, emanating also from Australia, advise restraint. Former captain Mark Taylor says that a ban would be too harsh; Geoff Lawson, the former Pakistan coach, says that would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater; Matthew Hayden believes that “we need to just sit back, make investigations in the fullness of time”. That would appear to be the prudent choice.

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The parasitic relationship between players and agents has reached alarming proportions. It’s a tale full of greed and official complicity.

Also prudent would be to examine the temptations that corrupted the Pakistan players and others in the past, and if this deadly virus of spot- and match-fixing could be replicated elsewhere—particularly India. It’s unsurprising that an Indian freelance photographer, Deeraj Dixit, is linked with Mohammed Asif, and Mazhar Majeed has said he sells information to Indian bookies. After all, India happens to be both home to the cricket world’s greatest riches and its largest illegal betting syndicate. As former CBI director R.K. Raghavan says, “T20 offers too much money for it not to attract the underworld.”

Information from the nether lands of the bookies says that the thunder of the England-Pakistan “spot-fix” has caused alarm among Indian bookies. According to sources, Rs 500 to Rs 700 crore was riding on the Lord’s Test, and the Mumbai bookies realised something was amiss when the Pakistan batting collapsed twice in the match. They refused to pay up and went underground after receiving threats from the underworld. “They believe that when England was in trouble (102/7), they were encouraged to put money on Pakistan. They believe they were being set up,” says a source.

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“We learnt that a few dishonest agents were telling junior players that they’d get them into IPL teams.”
Ratnakar Shetty, COO, BCCI

The illegal money trail often leads back to India. Before throwing stones at Pakistan’s glass house, it’s advisable for all nations to look inward. Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar were banned 10 years ago on the basis of a CBI report, with damaging testimony from bookie Mukesh Gupta. He had also named Alec Stewart, Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Dean Jones, Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga and Martin Crowe—apart from Hansie Cronje and Salim Malik, who did receive punishments, none of the above was indicted.

It is for these factors, as for being home to the IPL, that India needs to be more vigilant than others. Australian Adam Gilchrist, now a Hyderabadi with the Deccan Chargers, spoke of the possibility of corruption in the IPL in June this year. “It’s been discussed among IPL players—more wondering whether it goes on,” he said. “There’s a strong thought that we’d be naive to think it’s not happening, because it’s a pretty easy target.”

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Twenty20 is a format full of surprises, making so much easier to mask an error, a rash shot, in the guise of team’s need of it. “In T20 it is much more difficult, than other versions, for us to detect malpractices,” says Raghavan. Adds a senior investor in an IPL team, “Sometimes we’ve wondered what’s going on in the middle. From a winning position, we’ve lost matches, and we’ve wondered if all was quite above board. We don’t really know if the players are doing it.” Former Indian bowler Atul Wassan stated during a TV debate that he’d been “told by a few players that there were approaches made to them”.

Prime target: Suresh Raina, Keiron Pollard in the final of IPL 3 (Getty Images, From Outlook, September 13, 2010)

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“Players wonder if there is corruption in the IPL, an easy target. We’d be naive to think it doesn’t happen.”
Adam Gilchrist, Ex-Australia cricketer

Incidentally, during the inaugural IPL, the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) had ordered Kolkata Knight Riders part-owner Shahrukh Khan out of the team dugout. Subsequently, IPL guidelines were changed to allow a franchise owner or representative to sit with the players. After all, Shahrukh is a friend of Lalit Modi, and what are friends for?

Incidentally, Modi, now the suspended IPL chief, has again gone on twitter.com. He has posted web links to news stories which reveal that he and N. Srinivasan, BCCI secretary and MD of India Cements—which owns Chennai Super Kings—fixed the second IPL auction so that Andrew Flintoff could be bought by the Chennai team. Srinivasan is slated to be the next BCCI chief, and Modi is bent on discrediting him. “It’s becoming clear that the auctions were ‘arranged’ so that big stars were evenly distributed, and that the influential teams got the biggest stars,” says a player representative, unwilling to be named. Now Modi himself is fuelling the fire of this speculation. “To spite the face, he’s injuring the nose—himself!”

To complete the dubious India story, the parasitic relationship between players and sports agents seems to have reached alarming proportions. It’s a seething mass of rumour and innuendo, of greed and official complicity, of agents trying to fully monetise the skill and fame of their charges, and the race to sign young talent. “There have been instances when some of the newer agents tried to fox young players, telling them they’d get them into an IPL team or the Indian team,” says Latika Khaneja of Collage Sports Management.

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Two years ago, Ratnakar Shetty, the chief operating officer of the BCCI, had cautioned junior players against dubious agents. “We’d learnt that a few unscrupulous agents were going around telling junior cricketers they’d get them into IPL teams, giving the impression that they are close to the captain or the selectors,” Shetty told Outlook.

“T20 offers too much money for it not to attract the underworld. It’s also difficult for us to detect malpractices.”
R.K. Raghavan, Former CBI director

Insiders say that agents chasing players, and trying to build relationships with officials, is a serious problem. “This is rampant in domestic cricket,” says a source. “In Delhi, for instance, some officials are long-time betters and have links with bookies. In some states, selectors receive a cut from agents for selecting their players.” The source says that at the national level, agents have become less important due to a BCCI decision—paid selectors. “Earlier, agents used to be seen taking selectors to dinner etc, and it was believed they influenced selection,” he says. “Now at least in public they don’t hang out together.”

Agents and the access they have to the players, or the access they facilitate for others, could also cause problems. The ICC suggests no or limited access to players during matches, but agents and their friends are always with players. During the Asia Cup earlier this year, the Sri Lankan chief of security wrote to the acu that a woman had gained access to an Indian player’s room. “The situation was managed, but it’s a potentially hazardous, in which a woman could be used to lure a player towards wrongdoing,” says a source.

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A senior BCCI official says it’s time there was some regulation of the agents: “There are some good ones, but one or two are known to be of dubious integrity, misleading players about deals, attempting to influence selection. It might be a good idea to register agents, like in football and nba, so that there could be a thorough check of their antecedents.”

The agents strike early, as we saw with Mohammed Aamer. For instance, a day before the 2006 junior World Cup final between India and Pakistan in Sri Lanka, agents descended upon the venue. A newspaper called them “vultures circling over the team hotel”, and then coach Venkatesh Prasad was suitably angered at this intrusion. “Prasad was livid,” says a player. “He was angry that the agents were proving a distraction to the players and really blasted them.”

A senior India player says that the BCCI must do more to keep filth out of the system. “The BCCI owes this to itself, the young players and the fans of the game,” he says. “It should ensure that something like what’s happening with young Pakistan players, or happened with Azharuddin and Jadeja, doesn’t happen.” Punishment meted to the guilty should be severe enough to act as a deterrent. “Azhar is an MP, Prabhakar a coach and Jadeja a cricket expert on a respected TV channel,” says an official. “What kind of deterrence would that serve, if they are rehabilitated so easily after committing the biggest crime in sport?”

A law specifically against wrongdoing in sport, the likes of which exist in the UK, might help. Raghavan, though, isn’t too sure. “Specific laws are useful, but we shouldn’t exaggerate their value,” he says. “But there’s no harm in having such a law, because match-fixing is happening far too often for comfort.”

The onus, Raghavan says, is more on the BCCI and the ICC to ensure the game is cleansed. “It’s their moral duty,” he adds. Such a task, it is to be hoped, isn’t lost in gloating over Pakistan’s misfortunes.

By Rohit Mahajan inputs by Smruti Koppikar in Mumbai

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