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A fresh can of worms

The attempts by ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya, to try and play down the charges of match-fixing by Indian cricketers have just been hit for a six. An Indian newspaper, The Times of India, has, in a frontpage story, quoted polic sources in Bombay as saying that a few key Indian cricketers have been receiving bribes from bookmakers connected to one of the city's underworld dons.

Dalmiya had, last week, attempted to play down the charges of match-fixing levelled by former Test player Manoj Prabhakar in a magazine; this, despite the Indian board itself (of which Dalmiya was secretary until the end of June) having appointed a senior judge. Y.V. Chandrachud, to investigate these very charges. Dalmiya had tried to make light of the charges, saying that the investigation would reveal that there was no foundation to Prabhakar's claims.

The newspaper report has quoted a former Bombay crime branch officer as saying that there is evidence of at least one incident where the Indian players concerned took sums of Rs2 million each (around $57,200) and threw a match. The tie in question was a one-day fixture against New Zealand played at Napier on February 16, 1995. It was the first match which India played in a four-nation tournament to celebrate the centenary of cricket in New Zealand. India were the favourites as they had had a string of successes before, but could manage only 160. The Kiwis, led by Ken Rutherford, won by four wickets with 15.4 overs, this win coming after 16 straight losses.

The Bombay police reportedly stumbled on evidence of the racket when they picked up an associate of the underworld don who had been suddenly throwing money about. Asked about his source of income, he claimed he had made the money by fixing matches and, to prove this, phoned a senior member of the Indian team, which was then in New Zealand, and reconfirmed the deal with the police listening in on another line. The officer who made the disclosure to the paper claims to have the time and date of the call and the address from which it was made.

The police, strangely, did not pursue the case. The man who was picked up became an informant and kept giving them information about rigged matches, among other things. The conversation which this chappie had with the senior Indian player, reportedly revealed that four players wanted to bet against their own team using the bribe money -- merely to multiply their takings. The bookies had apparently made Rs430 million (about $12.3 million) from this match.

The Times has quoted from its own post-match interview with the then Indian captain, Mohammed Azharuddin, who put the loss down to the loss of two early wickets after which, he said, there was no way the scoring rate could be accelerated. The manager of the Indian team on that tour, Ajit Wadekar, has refused to say anything. Though a vice-president of the board, N. Venkat Rao, was quoted after the tour as saying that there were "at least four black sheep" in the team, nobody apparently took him seriously at the time, according to the paper.

To come back to Dalmiya, he had been attempting to make light of the charges by saying that even though all the board files were open to the judge conducting the probe, nothing would be found -- simply because, he claims, nothing exists. But can he say the same thing now? This report has opened a fresh can of worms which, doubtless, all Indian cricket officialdom would like to shut as soon as they possibly can, so that everybody can get back to the business at hand -- that of making money.

In a country like India, the wheels of justice turn extremely slowly -- if they turn at all. A police investigation means nothing; the wealthy and the powerful can get away with just about anything. The involvement of the underworld means that politicians cannot be far away and once that happens, it is generally a case of "let's put the lid on, boys, and all get on with our lives". A lot depends on how far the media are willing to go in unravelling the scandal and whether the guardians of the law follow up these charges at all. This is just the first act and it will be interesting to watch how the drama unfolds.

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