June is when the south-westerlies hit the Kerala cost and, about a fortnight later, Kalighat too sees clouds. Monsoon ’97 is still en route, but the Eden Gardens in Calcutta-the abode of Jagmohan Dalmiya, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (bcci)-is already in the midst of a storm.
Former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar’s damning admission inOutlook last week that he was offered Rs 25 lakh by a teammate to sabotage India’s chances in a match against Pakistan in the 1994 Singer Cup in Sri Lanka has caused such a downpour of outrage, bcci officials are rushing for cover.
Contrast them with cricketers and officials, past and present. Concerned at the sorry pass Mammon-worshipping Indian cricket has reached, they are saying: investigate, catch the culprits and, as former cricket manager Sandeep Patil was quoted by The Asian Age, “hang the guilty”. Sample these:
- “There’s a definite need to probe,” says former bcci chief Madhavrao Scindia.
- “The need for a thorough inquiry is obvious,” says former opening batsman and bjp MP, Chetan Chauhan.
- “The Board should take action to repair the damage,” says former bats man Ashok Mankad.
- “Earlier there was just speculation. Now that it’s public knowledge, an inquiry is in order,” says former bcci finance committee member P.M. Rungta.
- “It’s up to the Board to nip the controversy in the bud. Even if one fruit is spoilt, all the rest will go had,” says legendary off spinner Erapalli Prasanna.
- “The Board should summon Prabhakar and find out who the culprit is. In the Indian team, even the manager is considered a player,” says former Test batsman M.L. Jaisimha.
- “Now that the scandal is public, the Board must do something,” says Mumbai batsman Dilip Sardesai.But. Allthough Prabhakar’s charge brings the spectre of bribery and match-fixing to our doorsteps from that of our neighbours-as former Board member Amrit Mathur says, “We will now be equated with the Pakistanis on this issue”-the bcci has shown touching faith in the integrity of its players.
All Jagmohan Dalmiya has said so far-in the absence of bcci president Raj Singh Dungarpur, away in London-is that the working committee of the bcci will “study the matte and discuss it at its meeting”, slated for next month, and that action will be taken against the ‘guilty’.
Investigation? “If it’s found necessary, we shall order a probe,” is all Dalmiya offers, brushing aside the other issues raised by theOutlook report. Clearly, as an editorial in The Pionner said, the bcci “is biding its time, hopping the matter will be forgotten”.
During the course of the reporting for an accompanying story on the other ills plaguing Indian cricket, including the player-bookie-journalist nexus that is eating into cricket’s vitals, Dalmiya was specifically asked if he would institute a probe to stem the rot. But Dalmiya had refused to pick up the gauntlet: “You write the report. We will see what to do about it later.”
Now that the report has been written, and much has been said in response by newspapers and television networks around the world, including the bbc and cnn, he silence from the Eden Gardens is deafening.
Says a close confidant of, arguably, India’s greatest cricketer: “My feeling is the bcci will ignore the whole thing. That’s the best way for them to ensure that the issue dies down. If they want to act against a cricketer, they’ll do so quietly, without pomp. Unless there’s anotherdhamaka in Outlook, the controversy will be given a quiet burial.”
The are good reasons for the bcci to ignore the “greatest scandal in Indian cricket” for a while. One, on June 16, Dalmiya takes over as chairman of the International Cricket Council (icc) in London. The Prabhakar row means he will have to answer uncomfortable questions before the world’s press and cameras instead of unveiling his grand plans for cricket’s governing body.
Two, traditionally the game has been inclined to suppress a scandal rather than investigate it. As David Hopps wrote in the 1996 Wisden: “In an increasingly litigious world, governing bodies in many sports are reluctant to act, for fear that their authority will be undermined in a civil court.”
Three, there is too much at stake in Indian cricket for one has-been cricketer to shake things up. The press and TV follow-up of the Outlook story prompted a Board official to tell pti: “The issue is causing incalculable damage to the image of Indian cricket.” But as an editorial in The Telegraph said: “Much of what is rotten can be related to the amateurish greed of the bcci.”
And four, the conventional wisdom in cricket circles is that Indian cricketers are angels who wouldn’t stoop as low as their Pakistani counterparts, and Prabhakar’s allegation-or any of those detailed in Outlook -even if true cannot be proved. There is no proof of payment. No hard evidence of transaction. No video tapes. Ergo: there are no clincher warts on Indian cricket’s dark, yawning underbelly.
Let’s explode cricket’s greatest myth. That malpractices cannot be proved because there are so many factors involved in the game: players, pitches, umpires, weather, breeze, balls. Matchfixing can be proved. First, as The Indian Express said in an editorial: “Since so many players are involved, it should not be particularly difficult to find out when they do the dirty. All it would take is some commitment from the regulators and the honesty to admit there’s a problem.” That has been lacking for reasons not hard to fathom.
Second, as a photographer who has seen Indian cricketers and mediamen at home and abroad up close for years, says: “What do they mean they can’t prove anything? If they can catch the Sukh Rams, can’t they catch these guys? Whatever else they may be, our cricketers are not half as cunning or clever. So who’s trying to fool whom?”
Most major sports have set up vigilance panels to curb gol-maal.Not cricket. As The Hindustan Times wrote in an editorial: “One is disturbed by the thought that (cricket) authorities have actually no mechanism to control these issues-beyond banking on the players’ scruples to keep enticement at bay.”
They claim they tried. A day after Outlook hit the sand, Ajit Wadekar told The Indian Express: “After the disastrous (1992-93) South African tour when rumours were afloat in the media about bribery and matchfixing, I had the telephones of the players’ rooms tapped for about a month or so, of course, without their knowledge. I found absolutely nothing incriminating or objectionable.”
Wadekar didn’t reveal where he tapped the phones, in India or abroad, if he tapped the phones of all the players, and whose idea it was. But in the best traditions of foot-in-the-mouth-itis in Indian cricket, a few days later he was preparing to tell a TV show over the weekend that he was misquoted.
For the moment, bcci officials are off-the-record trying to cast Prabhakar as a renegade out for revenge for being unceremoniously dropped. First from the Indian team after the hammering he received from the Sri Lankans in Delhi in the World Cup. And then, for standing up for Delhi players’ right over logo money.
On the other hand, they don’t want to do any of the hard work and want Prabhakar to lay it all out on a platter without their having to go through the trouble, without their having to go through the embarrassment of asking the players some uncomfortable questions. Dalmiya says Prabhakar should have named names if he had Indian cricket’s interests at heart.
Ratnakar Shetty, joint secretary of the Mumbai Cricket Association, echoed Dalmiya when he told The Hindu: “How can the Board launch an inquiry into this? Against whom? It should ask Prabhakar to name the player. If he does not, it should file a defamation case.” Adds Arshad Ayub, former Test offspinner: “What can the Board do? How can it keep a tab on such happenings?”
For the Board as well those claiming that all is well with Indian cricket, seeing motives in Prabhakar’s confession after having called him a fighter and all that, and pushing him into a corner and asking him to reveal who offered him Rs 25 lakh is the easy way out of a very embarrassing situation. But even if Prabhakar does reveal the name, it will be, as Sardesai says, his word against the player he names. Take it or lump it.
But the issues Outlook raised go beyond the players involved. The issue is of widespread betting sparked by instant cricket, Sharjah, and satellite TV. Are bookies who put in tones of cash trying to protect their investments by trying to decide the outcome of matches. Are they seeking the help of players to do so? As The Asian Age said: “It’s time that a thorough probe is conducted into the players; alleged links with bookies.”
What are the links of bookies with journalists? TV commentators? Former cricketers? Is the playher-bookie-journalist-commentator nexus giving the bookie an undue advantage over the punter? Who are these guys who give away Mercedes Benz cars as gifts to some players? Are the assets of players proportionate to their known sources of income? If not, what are the sources for the extra assets? Questions, questions, questions. To probe these, it’s imperative that the bcci appoint a committee. The question: who should be on it, and what should be its brief?
Poet Dom Moraes, a former cricket reporter and committed cricket enthusiast, says the bcci shouldn’t investigate. Why? “It’s totally incompetent to do so.” Chauhan says a three-member committee preferably headed by a former Board president, like I.S. Bindra, and comprising a player should do so. Rungta says it should be done by an independent person or cbi.
There is advice from across the border too. Says Arif Abbasi, former chief of he Pakistan Cricket Board: “We had the accusations of bribery against Salim Malik probed by a former attorney-general of Pakistan, Justice Fakruddin Ibrahim. He was not involved with the Board with and way. Even Clyde Walcott took my name, saying it was the right thing to do. The Indian Board should do something like that in I’affaire Manoj Prabhaker.” The question is” will Walcott’s successor follow suit? Arise, Jagmohan Dalmiya.