Will inquiries get to bottom of truth?

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Friday, May 19, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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They are scratching each other's faces with nails that really ought to be used to come to grips with the biggest controversy to hit the game of cricket. Tongues are lashing in every direction, spitting venom in the process. Where this game of the pot calling the kettle black and filing of multi-crore defamation suits will take us, one does not know.

Even the dignified silence that the BCCI president A C Muthiah had opted for, was finally broken. He hit out at those bent on maligning the cricket body by going public with charges and counter-charges. One, however, got the impression that, despite sounding angry, his wrath, after all, was also one-sided.

A kind of pessimism, thus, rings the air in that we may, perhaps, never get to the bottom of the truth, nor even be able to pin down those really guilty in several betting and match-fixing cases that have come to light or are in the process of being unearthed.

Despite all the good work being done by groups of investigating agencies, and their final findings notwithstanding, a feeling is inescapable that only a very few, if at all, will be trapped and many more will get away, as much with their ill-gotten wealth, as with their big reputation unblemished.

The main reasons for this belief is the general attitude of the cricket administration towards a controversy that has shaken the game out of its groove of credibility. It ranges from total callousness, to deliberate inaction, and even complicity, that has so far been forthcoming from the cricket administration, right from the International Cricket Council down to the cricket boards of several countries.

The appearance of names of a couple of highly-placed officials in other kinds of scandals has made them even more resistant to providing co-operation.

The Indian Board has erred on the side of hoodwinking, several times in the past, when suspicions were raised by no less important persons than team managers on some players being involved in betting on the game and having contacts with bookmakers.

The Australian Cricket Board (ACB), likewise, had concealed the guilt of their players, who had been fined for their involvement with bookmakers.

Even as the controversy raged from one cricket-playing nation to another, the International Cricket Council considered the suspicious bowling action of a few Asian players as a bigger crime than even the confessed acceptance of huge largesse from bookmakers by players.

The betting and match-fixing scandal is not new. It has been there for as long as a decade and a half. It is only now, after the Hansie Cronje exposure, that serious action has been attempted for the first time to launch an investigation, of some form or the other, into the controversy, and that too by the law and order agencies.

All the while, the cricket administration has been aware of the players' involvement in shady deals, in partnership with bookmakers and other outside elements, and yet the officials have turned a blind eye. Not only that, they have indeed used the methods of the shroud and the mop to either cover the ill deeds or wipe them out of the records.

Such an accusation perforce has to be made against the cricket boards of Australia, India and Pakistan. They did completely ignore, if not lovingly condone, the acts of their players' involvement with things that were terribly amiss.

Look at the way the Board of Control for Cricket in India has handled this controversy, which has virtually shaken the cricket-crazy country. The first official reaction to a lot of irregularities that were suspected to have been going on was recorded in 1995, soon after the Indian team's visit to New Zealand. It had come in the form of a report by the team manager N. Venkata Rao. He had said in his tour report that he suspected at least four players of the Indian squad to be involved in big betting on the game.

Venkata Rao, then a vice-president of the BCCI, was persuaded to change his report and drop references to players' involvement in betting.

When Manoj Prabhakar alleged that he had been approached by the former Indian captain (a name he kept secret for six years) with a bribe offer of Rs 25 lakh to tank a match, the BCCI, bowing to public and media pressure, instituted a commission of inquiry, headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Y.V. Chadrachud. The very approach of the BCCI suggested that this inquiry was doomed to failure, and so it was.

When the Delhi Police brought off a sensational exposure of South African captain Hansie Cronje's involvement in match-fixing activities, the reaction of the BCCI was once again ostrich-like.

The biggest gun in the Indian cricket administration, Jagmohan Dalmiya, who has since been exposed for his own complicity in alleged deals to defraud Doordarshan and its controlling agency, the Prasar Bharati, of millions of dollars, reacted with a rather queer line of argument. "We will cross the bridge when we come to it," he said when he was asked what the BCCI and the ICC would be doing in the matter.

Now Dalmiya has to cross two dangerous bridges, one on which he has his own integrity and reputation at stake.

The crucial ICC meeting held in London on May 2 and 3, just made a big show and achieved hardly anything because almost everyone was holding back the punches.

In the midst of all this, ICC executive officer David Richards decided to exploit the situation to his advantage. On the one hand he gave a clean chit to Jagmohan Dalmiya on his involvement with the financial deal with Doordarshan, on the other he saw to it that the ICC president was kept out of all future meetings to discuss financial deals for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.

Does this not suggest that the ICC believes that Dalmiya indeed may have had a part to play in the TV rights deal with the Indian TV authorities? Such questionable roles played by officials and administrators must add a new dimension to the ongoing, worldwide cricket controversy.

The biggest disappointment will, however, come from the full-scale manner in which the Qayyam inquiry report, presented to the president of Pakistan, and not yet made public, is either being watered down or completely re-written.

The Pakistan Cricket Board's intervention in changing the whole report is not going to please former judge of the Lahore High Court, Justice Malik Mohammed Qayyam. But there is very little that he can do in the matter, even though he has gone on record to say that he would not allow any one to tamper with his findings.

In the original report, which was leaked out to a national Urdu Daily of Pakistan, Justice Qayyam has indicted seven leading Pakistani players of being involved in acts of huge betting and match-fixing.

He has recommended the most stringent punishment, from a life ban to investigation of the assets of these players and their close relatives. But all that will now, perhaps, be consigned to the dustbin.

In India, the controversy has split the BCCI right down the middle. The Bindra and the Jagmohan Dalmiya camps are more preoccupied with calling each other as many guilty names as they can, which only helps to sidetrack the main issue.

As one can see, some major differences between the two factions have been there for years. Why pull them out now, to make fresh charges? Some of them ought to remember the Biblical pronouncement: "Let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone."

If the advice: "Produce evidence or shut up," is being offered to Manoj Prabhakar and Inderjit Singh Bindra, then the same must hold true to the officials and BCCI members who are practically holding media conferences every other day, which can only be dubbed as "operation maligning".

So, on the main issue of betting and match-fixing, we are all back to square one. Some will get away with using all the tact and legal aid at their command, others by shedding copious tears.

In the end, the investigation agencies from Delhi and Mumbai police to the CBI and the Scotland Yard, will be left to hold the brief, sans any clinching evidence, with the administration of the game providing the fig leaves to players and officials who, otherwise, will have been stripped bare by the investigators.

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