For three years after stepping into the cesspool of Indian politics, Sonia Gandhi's only weapon was her silence: she lost it the moment she opened her mouth. Likewise, for three years after casting a stone in the cesspool of Indian cricket, Manoj Prabhakar's only shield was suspicion. Has he just lost the only weapon in his armoury by outing Kapil Dev as the teammate who offered him Rs 25 lakh to perform below par in a match against Pakistan which was never played in Sri Lanka six years ago?
When Prabhakar made the sensational admission in this magazine in 1997, everybody and his uncle - -from Choudhary Chandrachud to Little Lele and everybody in between - -everybody had only two questions: why doesn't he name names if he has the good of Indian cricket at heart, and why did it take him three long years to spill the beans on the alleged incident? There were some in the know who had a third, more important, question: how did one of the prime accused suddenly become an accuser with a halo?
Yet, after answering the first two queries this week, by naming Kapil Dev as the culprit and by claiming that he did tell the great and the good of Indian cricket, including Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajit Wadekar, about the offer when it was made by 'Paaji' in Colombo in 1994, there is only more heat than light on the scandal that has brought Indian cricket to the brink - -and not a little dust and muck on the creams of five very fine cricketers produced by this country.
Sure, at the end of the day, the big question still remains unanswered: could the man who almost fathered fast bowling in this country, won us the World Cup, and took 434 Test wickets and 253 one-day wickets, really be so daft or dumb or both as to tell a teammate with whom he (allegedly) never had the best of relations to bowl badly within earshot of another colleague (Navjot Sidhu) in the evening of a glorious career? Be that as it may, what were Sunny and Ravi-bhai and Ajit-Sir and Azzu doing all this while if they knew?
To that extent, then, there is little surprise in the Haryana Hurricane being named by The Hunter. All these past three years, the name has been bandied about in club-houses and pavilions across the country with scarcely any remorse or regret. And all these past three weeks, of course, a former president of the Board of Complete Chaos in India (bcci) has been entertaining cnn's awesome audiences in several continents about what Prabhakar told him before he emplaned for London.
Against that rather unidimensional backdrop, Kapil's lachrymose appearance before Karan Thapar seemed to swing the trps firmly in the direction of 39, Sunder Nagar. How could we do this, we wondered, to the man who soldiered on so manfully for our self-esteem? So what if he did deliberately under-perform in 10 per cent of the matches he played for India, wrote a colleague in these columns; his 90 per cent was enough to last me a lifetime. Surely, by that logic, it is okay if 10 per cent of the matches are fixed since the other 90 per cent give us so much joy?
But we digress. What has queered the pitch, suddenly, is Prabhakar's move to drag in others to corroborate his claim. By stating that he had told Gavaskar, Shastri and Sidhu - and then captain Azharuddin and coach Wadekar - and that wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia and bowler Prashant Vaidya were in the neighbouring room when he shouted Kapil down, Prabhakar is playing his cards with the aplomb of a failed politician, which he is. If Prabhakar was a bit of a bastard in not revealing the name earlier, as a lot of people alleged, aren't the others equally culpable by their silence?
Prabhakar's claim that he had kept others in the know may still not prove that Kapil Dev offered him the money. (Offered is the operative word; Kapil is not being alleged to have taken money but of offering it.) Far from it. In fact, with Sidhu stating that he was not present when the alleged offer was made, with Wadekar and Mongia ducking behind the Chandrachud and cbi probes, with Azhar concentrating on the Asia Cup, with Vaidya denying the incident altogether, with Sunil Gavaskar maintaining his golden silence, Prabhakar may be a long way away from proving his case.
But this is such an obnoxious scandal that the tiniest whiff is enough to asphyxiate even non-believers. So, Ravi Shastri alone among Prabhakar's witnesses confirming that Prabhakar did tell him of the offer, is enough to plant a convenient seed of doubt in most people's minds. And it is suspicion which, as we said earlier, that is Prabhakar's sustenance. His cricketing accomplishments may be a drop before Kapil Dev's; his credibility may be even tinier than Kapil Dev's. But by bringing more people into the picture, Prabhakar is showing that he too imbibed his 'maa ka doodh', not some Ghaziabad dairy farm produce.
At one level, he is doing us all a great favour: he is showing up some of our greats to be no more than bloody hypocrites, all of them carefully guarding their posts and posteriors while Indian cricket goes to the marauding canines of commercialisation. If Gavaskar and Shastri and all the others named were told about the "offer", real or imaginary, why did they keep quiet when Prabhakar was being pilloried, when the good name of cricket was being sullied? Did Gavaskar know all this while that it was Kapil, which is why he kept writing in his column that the records of players guilty of match-fixing should be erased as if he never played the game? Did any of those named by Prabhakar tell Justice Chandrachud about what he had told them in 1994?
Deeper down, though, Prabhakar is nibbling away at the article of faith in cricket: trust. Suddenly, nobody is safe from his swishing fence. Today, it is Gavaskar and Shastri; tomorrow it could be Sachin and Kambli. Till he made the sensational allegation three years ago, Prabhakar was always one of the four prime suspects alongside Azharuddin, Mongia and Ajay Jadeja. The tragedy, as it unfolds, is that not only is one of the accused now an ace accuser, the other three are breathing easy, while one of the legends of the game is being dragged into the gutters because of the complicity of silence of his peers. Does Kapil deserve this? Or is 10 per cent okay?