Of rotten eggs and a rich league

Spot-fixing: Nexus between greedy players and bookies plunges cricket into a crisis
Last Updated : 25 May 2013, 20:14 IST
Last Updated : 25 May 2013, 20:14 IST

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When brash and ambitious businessman Lalit Modi conceived and delivered Indian Premier League in 2008, the gentlemen’s game seen by many as a religion in the country eventually became opium of the masses owing to the addictive T20 format.

The sport was tweaked to make it crispier, spectacular, glamorous, money-spinner and, perhaps, it became what union minister and former BCCI president Sharad Pawar would like us to believe – ‘one of the strongest brands India could boast of in the world’.
That brand, thanks to the extravagance linked to the game, is in peril now. Not just the brand, the game that spawned the brand too is passing through troubled times, thanks to a bunch of greedy players, unscrupulous administrators and an army of bookies and shady elements waiting to cash in on the passion for the game that is unparalleled in the world.

The ugly underbelly of cricket was exposed when Rajasthan Royals bowlers Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were arrested by Delhi Police on May 16 for allegedly spot-fixing in three IPL matches. More than a dozen bookies and associates have been arrested across the country over the past week including four domestic-level cricketers and Bollywood actor Vindoo Dara Singh. More seriously, the bookie-player-administrator nexus is knocking on the doors of BCCI president’s family, leaving a trail of question marks.

Ever since its inaugural edition, IPL has divided opinion among the followers of the game, with the purists keen to keep a distance and the masses happily lapping up the recipe of glitz, glamour, entertainment and sport. But controversy has been its constant bed-fellow. From team owners’ alleged links to hawala money to conflict of interest (BCCI President owning a team which is led by the Indian team’s captain), the cash-rich tournament has struggled to attain credibility since its inception and the latest scandal has come as the last straw.

The fast unfolding chain of events has painted BCCI bosses into a corner, with the clamour for action reaching a crescendo. Being the care-taker of the game in the country, it is but natural that BCCI has to cop major ire coming from every conceivable direction. Reactions from politicians to public and from former cricketers to commentators have oscillated between the sensible and the extreme; in some cases even such as scrapping of IPL and government takeover of the Board.

 Fixing is not new to cricket. Way back in 2000, the nation was rocked when former captain Mohammad Azharuddin and dashing batsman Ajay Jadeja landed in trouble and were subsequently punished for their alleged involvement in fixing. Over the years, the match-fixing gave way to spot-fixing -- the latter involved in pre-deciding certain parts of the match rather than the game itself.

While there have been hushed talks of matches being fixed right from start of IPL, the sting operation by a television channel on five IPL cricketers lent some substance to it. Though there was no direct evidence of any match being fixed, some of the players caught on camera were willing to do just that in exchange of money. The action against the five -- who were banned for various periods -- was a swift move on part of the BCCI but it has failed to keep a constant vigil despite danger signals emanating from many corners of the world.

How it thrives

Essentially, betting and fixing thrive as there are no real direct victims and every stakeholder in this game-within-game is a beneficiary, says an investigator. If a bookie or a punter loses once, he makes it the next time, while the players are always on the right side as their innocuous acts are hardly noticed, he explains.

The lack of adequate laws aids the brewing of fixing syndicates as the Indian Penal Code does not recognise fixing as a criminal offence. Successive governments have failed to amend laws to give teeth to the Public Gambling Act which provides for three months of jail and a few hundreds of rupees in fine.

The process of entrapment of the cricketers by bookies begins with befriending them at post-match get togethers, and it is followed by luring them with money and escort girls. According to transcripts of recorded phone conversations between bookies and gangsters, the bookies were instructed to threaten some young players with dire consequences if they refused to cooperate.

Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar insists the masterminds in the scandal are sitting abroad. Now other agencies, including the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax, have also joined in a country wide investigation which appears to be unending, as each passing day throws up new names.

Investigation reveals that the chain of spot-fixing originates in Pakistan and reaches Indian cities via London and Dubai. Sources said Dawood Ibrahim coordinates the spot-fixing mafia from Pakistan and directs one of his trusted men in London, who controls the D-Company men in Dubai.

“There are hierarchies of bookies who report to a master bookie. We suspect he sits in Mumbai and is continuously monitored from Dubai,” a Delhi Police source said.
In the 2000 match-fixing scandal which was investigated by the CBI, underworld don Chota Shakeel was directly controlling the betting racket because of its low-investment-but-high-return business. In a recent interview to a national daily, Shakeel, believed to be hiding in Pakistan, admitted that he was involved in the 2000 fixing scandal but denied media reports linking D-Company to the IPL expose.

Though it was not made public by the CBI in its report on fixing, they had an intercept of Shakeel’s conversation with a former Indian cricket captain who later became a politician. The player had confessed to his role in fixing only after he was confronted with the intercepted conversation with underworld don, according CBI sources.

Worrying factor

The worrying factor in the latest episode is the fact that Indian cricketers are among the best paid in the world. IPL and the money that it brings has been an envy of the cricketing world but scratch the surface and the discontent lurking beneath is not hard to find. It is the creamy layer that gets the lion’s share of the money while the fringe players, not in the same league but eager to enjoy a similar living, are open to temptations from the criminal world, as explained beautifully by former England opener Geoffrey Boycott the other day.

The cricket board has not succeeded in keeping out the shady elements, even though it issued a diktat clamping down the after-parties that gave these men easy access to the players. The parties, however, continue to flourish, leaving the door open for all and sundry to break in. The proximity to the celebrity world too is a temptation that is tough to resist and as more skeletons tumble out of the closet, the fans are left with the feeling that they are being taken for a ride.

The arrest of Meiyappan, the face of Chennai Super Kings at players’ auctions and a permanent fixture at match venues, has made BCCI chief Srinivasan’s position untenable. While the India Cements’ owner may have remained defiant in the face of strong demand for his exit, the cricketing fraternity and the fans at large believe the Chennai strong man needs to step down to restore the credibility of the game.

As the probe rolls on with new revelations, the only fear is of the matter ending up in the cellar, as it turned out in the previous case involving former South African skipper Hansie Cronje. The police have not even filed a chargesheet in that case.
(With inputs from Bangalore bureau)

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Published 25 May 2013, 18:36 IST

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