See no evil' is Cricket Board's policy

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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It is not that such a kind of lid-off on the betting scandal has not taken place before. But the Hansie Cronje-involved controversy has a touch of cloak-and-dagger about it, what with the transcript of what is alleged to have been snatches of several telephone conversation being heard all over the world and the Delhi Police collecting more incriminating evidence.

Each of the parties concerned, or even remotely connected, have drawn their own conclusions on the issue. The Government of the Republic of South Africa made a diplomatic issue of it, in all anxiety to get behind the national cricket team's captain, who until this blow-off, had enjoyed a clean reputation of a highly committed cricketer who hated to lose.

The cricketing world, however, does not bother so much about what the governments feel, as much as it worries about the growing menace of players getting involved with bookmakers in the common interest of fixing the outcome of matches and getting paid fabulously for it.

There have been frequent allegations of players indulging in huge quantum of betting or accepting tainted money to provide vital information on the eve or morning of the match.

Having said that, it appears the cricket administrations which control the players so named, and the apex body for the game in the world, the International Cricket Council, are amongst the most helpless of agencies to deal with the malaise, which has now reached the point of shaking the very credibility of the ultimate outcome of a match.

If there is a shock result, or a sudden reversal of the tide in which the game is moving, a suspicion is bound to be raised as to the genuineness of the proceedings and the part the players play.

The authorities actually ought to have probed these allegations as soon as they came to light. It took four years for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and its Australian counterpart ACB to take the charges first hurled by three Australians, Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Tim May against the then Pakistan captain, Salim Malik, seriously.

The ACB in fact concealed the fact that they had already fined the first two players for accepting huge amounts from an Indian bookie to 'furnish' pitch report and team information.

But, perhaps, the biggest disservice to the cause of battling this scandalous development was rendered by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

After Manoj Prabhakar accused two members of his side of having approached him with an offer of Rs 25 lakh to help tank a match, the BCCI appointed former Chief Justice of India Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud as a one-man commission of inquiry. The proceedings of the commission and its ultimate findings were a mere eye-wash. I know what a big farce it was because I was asked to depose before it as a journalist.

With due respects to one of India's leading legal luminaries, it must be said that his whole approach was so superficial that it gave the impression that he was just not interested in arriving at the truth of the matter.

He had just two patent questions to ask all those who appeared before him, be he a current or a past player, an umpire, an administrator or a journalist. They were:

1. Do you think that our players are involved in betting on cricket matches?

2. Do you think any of our players are invloved in match-fixing.

Justice Chandrachud expected just monosyllabic answers, a firm "Yes" or "No." If anyone wanted to elaborate, he would be cut short by the remark: "You can go on speaking as much as you like, but I will record only what I want."

Quite surprisingly, for such an important inquiry by such a highly-placed person, he did not have a steno or even a cassette-recorder. "I prefer taking down in my own hand," he used to say. And, as this writer was a witness to it, he hardly took down any notes as such.

When a police officer of Mumbai volunteered to provide him with a tape on which he had recorded a telephonic conversation between an alleged bookie in the city and a prominent member of the Indian team, then in New Zealand, Justice Chandrachud's reply was, "I am not investigating a criminal case."

Similarly a bookmaker from Calcutta, who had been duped by his punters and wanted to turn a new leaf, had volunteered to depose before the inquiry commission, but he was not called. This person who was in the thick of things in the business of illegal betting would have been a big help. All he wanted was immunity against arrest.

In the end the report, submitted in all confidence to the BCCI chief, exonerated everyone without even the slightest remark that betting and match-fixing might be taking place. The report has not yet been made public.

The only outcome of the inquiry was that it gave birth to a process of witch-hunting of the very player who had dared to speak out. The BCCI saw to it that Manoj Prabhakar was thrown out of the team, had a Rs 5 crore defamation case against him and to date, his dues by way of match-fees, other allowances and accumulated benefit fund, have not been paid to him, despite a court order.

The moral of the story, as far as the BCCI is concerned with the betting or match-fixing scandal, is that if you want to expose anything that is shady or wrong, please don't.

Look at the way BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele reacted to the sensational news of Hansie Cronje's likely involvement in match-fixing. The Delhi police presented the transcripts of telephonic conversation between the South African captain and a Delhi bookmaker, at a well-attended media conference. The whole cricketing world was aghast by the revelations and yet the BCCI secretary had the temerity to jump to a conclusion that all that was "rubbish., absolutely rubbish."

Since he is the key BCCI official, this utterance of his must be taken as the official reaction of the Indian Board. Why then blame the United Cricket Board of South Africa and even their government for reacting in the same way?

The International Cricket Council has been guilty not only of inaction on this important issue but also of taking sides, as its special committees have done in the case of chucking allegations and violation of the players' code of conduct.

For the first time, a couple of players admitted to having taken money from bookies, running into more than over five lakh US dollars "for merely furnishing details of weather and team composition." When this came to the knowledge of the ICC, no action was forthcoming.

The same committee had suggested life ban on the guilty when the Pakistani players were accused of match-fixing. Self-admission of guilt is stronger than any proof and yet Shane Warne and Mark Waugh went scot-free.

Even if you concede the fact that it is extremely difficult to legally chargesheet players on match-fixing charges merely on the basis of recorded conversation, it is this lenient, or rather unwilling posture of the ICC, not to mention the respective cricket boards, that has been the main cause of inability to break the player-bookie nexus in altering the outcome of matches. The dirty word for it is 'match-fixing."

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