Dhindsa's meeting: Another exercise in futility

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Friday, April 28, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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Even as the investigating agencies are spreading their tentacles far and wide and the grand debate over betting and match-fixing continues unabated at almost every forum, the people who ought to have counted the most in promoting transparency have once again been a big let down.

One more version of an exercise in futility was gone through when Union Sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa held a grand darbar of cricket persons in the capital.

There were contradictions galore, as much in the gathering present, as in the opinions held by the invitees. The momentous meeting, which had raised such high expectations of giving the ongoing investigation a momentum, ended in a whimper, with the anti-climactic announcement of the sports minister.

"Whether there should be a CBI inquiry into the whole issue of match-fixing will be decided in a few days," the sports minister said. There appeared to be a change in the stand that had been taken by the members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India earlier. The body reluctant to make the Chadrachud Commission report public, much less invite an investigation agency to take over, suddenly appeared not to object to any form of investigation, even if it was to be by the CBI.

Has this come about due to public pressure or because of accounts that are appearing in newspapers and magazines about the likely involvement of prominent players, some of whom have been named in an article appearing in 'The Outlook'.

Whatever may be the reasons, the BCCI ought to realise by now that its ostrich-like posture on the issue and the lame attempt of a probe by former Chief Justice Y V Chandrachud have only helped to accentuate the evil of big betting and match-fixing.

There were hints of some players being involved with bookies in the past, but a body that had once suspended half-a-dozen players for playing a couple of friendly matches in Canada and the USA, on their way back from the West Indies in 1989, just winked at the suspicions, raised by the team managers on no less than three occasions.

That is why, I feel that the managers, who were brow beaten by the higher echelons of the BCCI and the very officials responsible for bringing that kind of pressure, may be as much guilty as the players, if they are indeed found to be guilty.

No one, just no one seems inclined to shift the focus of attention from the player-bookie nexus. With everything far from being definitive about who the guilty might be, the stigma appears to cover almost all players, bigger the name, higher the speculation of involvement.

Could the officials and the careerists amongst the cricket administrators, who have been there for years, not be guilty of acquiescence, if not of being indirectly involved? Suppressing information and deliberately holding back knowledge makes one an accessory after the fact in law.

If cricketers can be under the purview of investigation, why leave our officials, especially those who have functioned as managers and have held key posts? It has happened on at least three occasions in the past, when managers have made bold to point out in their reports the likely involvement of players in betting, and perhaps also match-fixing. They have been forced to change their reports.

If the names they had mentioned earlier, are indeed found to be guilty, then they would have had a part of the guilt attached as much to them as to those responsible for forcing them to make convenient changes.

It is surprising that while Delhi police, with the help of the law-enforcing agencies elsewhere, are trying their best to complete their investigation, it is the cricket officials who are making the maximum noise, hurling innuendoes, if not charges, and calling each other names.

Bindra versus Dalmiya is billed as the stellar bout, even as the biggest controversy to hit the game looks askance at clues, if not seek solution.

What is happening elsewhere on the broader canvas of world cricket is equally deplorable. Dr Ali Bacher, the conscience-keeper of South African cricket has suddenly become a public prosecutor, naming quite a few national sides of being guilty of match-fixing in the last World Cup in England.

It is almost a year since that happened and if at all the matches were fixed, why has he kept mum so long? And why did he, when he first heard of Hansie Cronje's name being mentioned in a match-fixing case, go to great pains to defend the guilty?

Actually, Dr Ali Bacher, a former national captain had his playing career ended when South Africa were banned from international cricket in 1970. This action was taken by ICC when a coloured player, Basil D'Oliveira, was not acceptable in the England team that was to tour South Africa. England cancelled the tour and South Africa were thrown out of the ICC for pursuing a racist policy even in their cricket.

Since then, Bacher tried every manner of means, both fair and not-so-fair, to get his country back into the international cricket fold. When his backdoor efforts failed, Bacher, backed by the South African Breweries, and its chief Joe Pamensky, transferred millions of pounds sterling to buy votes just before the ICC meeting at which Australia were to sponsor their return.

This was nicely timed by Ali Bacher as the World Cup 1987 was to be held in India and Pakistan in a couple of months' time. Bacher also carried with him highly lucrative contracts for English players to play in South Africa. When the then Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) contemplated a five-year ban on any of their players playing in SA, Bacher, with the help of a leading firm of solicitors and the best lawyers, moved court to set aside the ban, on grounds of "restraint of trade."

Meanwhile the ICC was on the verge of a vertical split, with the West Indies ready to move a resolution against Australia for supporting the move to bring SA back into the ICC fold. They had the support of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, as also England, who had not taken kindly to losing a major court case.

Australia then realised that the split in the cricket world was imminent and finally backed down to agree to a face-saving formula, "The issue to be taken up after the 1987 World Cup."

Thus millions of rands spent by Bacher and South African Cricket Union (SACU) had gone down the drain. But Bacher was not to be cowed down. It was only when Nelson Mandela was released and a majority black rule was on the cards, did Dr Bacher change his colours. He promoted several mixed and multi-racial cricket centres all over South Africa. He impressed upon everyone that South African cricket was no more an all-white domain. He particularly sought India's help to get back into the ICC. A new cricket body, aptly named the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) was thus born .

Non-whites have been elected to the Board. The first president was an Indian. But, Dr Ali Bacher continues to call the shots as managing director, a rare post in any cricket hierarchy.

Bacher's holier-than-thou image has taken a beating with Hansiegate. He has now acquired the posture of a man who knows too much. Why witch-hunt players alone and leave the officials out? Their backgrounds and the part they may have played in deals or have had in concealing knowledge of the same need also to be investigated.

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