Cricket Find/Feedback/Site Index
April 10, 2000


send this story to a friend

Echoes of the Cronje Caper

Prem Panicker

THE Cronje caper, for want of a better descriptor, has triggered off a boom in email. At no point in my four-plus years in Rediff do I recall emails coming in at this pace, or individual writers writing at such length.

Given the volume, responding individually, to each mail, is beyond the sphere of practical politics. However, the mails do fall into two broad categories, and both deserve addressing in some detail. So here goes:

Eight out of every ten mails received here end with the same tagline: 'Cricket has lost its charm, I used to love it once, but not any longer, I am never again going to follow this game for the rest of my life.'

I can understand that reaction. Funnily enough, when the Cronje story first broke, one of the first thoughts that went flashing through my mind was, geez, for four years now, I've been working ridiculous hours, putting myself at risk of RSI with all the non-stop typing, and all this for what? I might as well have gone live with the WWF -- or a puppet show, for that matter, rather than the pre-fixed, stage-managed drama that is cricket today.

But hey, wait a minute, isn't that over-reaction? When, say, a Michael Johnson bursts smoothly off the blocks, and storms around the track in an awesome display of power and fluid grace, do we turn our faces because a Ben Johnson, and a host of others, used dope to enhance their performances? I mean, every single international athletic meet today brings at least one, two instances of dope abuse -- but that has not, as far as I can see, turned fans away from athletics.

Or look at this another way: I love someone. And being human, I believe, and expect, the one I love to be perfect in all respects.

And then, to my shock and dismay, the one I love is revealed to have feet of clay.

What then do I do? Renounce my love and after a suitable period of growing a beard and making like Devdas, go on to loving someone else?

Or do I realise that this person I love is human? That being human comes with a certain quantum of faults? That if I genuinely loved this person, the way to go would be to continue to be with this person, and to do all I can to try and help eradicate those faults?

Which of the two alternatives do you think is better -- turn your back and run away, or stand by this person and do whatever you can to help that person achieve perfection?

We have, all of us, invested enormous time, and passion, in this game. Do we write it all off as a total loss? Or do we invest some more time, and passion, to try and lift the game back onto the pedestal we had placed it on in the first place?

That is bound to bring the inevitable reaction: 'But what can we do?'

In this connection, a mail from one of the regular readers provides food for thought: "I would advice all cricket lovers to voluntarily boycott all cricket matches involving any country. Do not buy any products advertised by cricketers. Do not create a fan club, fan following, etc which helps promote the image of cricket. Let us punish the players. The ICC and other administrative bodies are equally culpable, they have overlooked the after effects of their purposeful neglect of this malpractise, which has been going on for quite some time.

"Do not attend any matches. Outside the venues, let us display banners proclaiming that the game is fixed.

"Let us convey the message that we are lovers of the real game of cricket, and not of this adulterated version."

Extreme views? Perhaps -- but aren't we facing an extreme situation here?

The underlying point in this email is very well taken. Firstly, there is no denying that over the past few years, a fraud of mammoth proportions is being perpetrated on the cricket-loving public. Second, this fraud is being perpetrated not just by a handful of cricketers, but more importantly, by cricket administrators who, rather than fulfill their responsibilities and clean up the game, are willing to go along with one cover-up after another, and perpetuate the status quo as long as the money comes pouring in.

That is an intolerable situation. And it will change only when -- and if -- the fans begin to hit the administrators where it hurts. Namely, in the pocket.

The administrators, today, are content in their apathy. But let a handful of fans get together, say, and gherao a Dalmiya, a Lele, a Muthaiah, demanding hard answers, hard solutions, and see how soon they get shaken out of their apathy. Let the fans boycott one single game, and see how soon the sponsors turn their backs on this game -- and when that happens, change will come at lightning speed, because when the administrators are faced with the fact that they can no longer mint money out of the game, they will have no option but to address the pressing issues and to clean up the game, in a bid to fill the stadia again.

Someone once said, "I love my country -- when right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be put right". Substitute cricket for country, the formula remains the same.

But yes, it takes commitment. And passion. On all our parts. Maybe it is not just the game, the players, and the administrators who are being tested here. Maybe it is us, the fans, who are the most under test?

CRISIS, they say, brings out the best in people.

A saying that does not seem to apply to India's cricket administrators -- who have been seen at their very worst in the 72-odd hours since the Cronje crisis broke.

First, there was Jagmohan Dalmiya, jumping in where angels feared to tread, with a masterly statement about "bridges to cross" and "grey areas to look into" and all the rest of it.

Within hours, the much-loved J Y Lele, taking a cue from you know where, thundered that the police case was "complete rubbish". (It apparently didn't occur to either Dalmiya, or Lele, at that point that this was a police case, not a Manoj Prabhakar sound byte which could be comfortably swept aside by appointing a Chandrachud to come up with a coat of whitewash).

24 hours later, Dalmiya did a flip-flop, and began talking of the need for a thorough investigation. And promptly, Lele did the predictable about turn, waffling about the law taking its course, and punishment being meted out irrespective of who the guilty party turned out to be. And -- much to the amusement of all who saw the programme -- Lele and board president A C Muthaiah, appearing on a television show, spent all their time looking daggers at each other, and contradicting each other at every step.

Meanwhile, unnoticed in all this furore, a section of the Indian cricket establishment moved quietly to further Dalmiya's hold on the game.

The Cricket Association of Bengal got into session to bring about an amendment to the constitution, which permits the president to serve a third successive term of office. Until this amendment was passed, it was mandatory that the president of any of the state associations, or even of the BCCI itself, could only serve two terms before voluntarily abdicating the post in favour of an elected successor.

The president of the CAB is Jagmohan Dalmiya. And he is on the verge of completing two terms in the post. Which meant he was on the verge of losing office. Which the CAB doesn't want. The official statement runs: "We need his guidance, his services, we need his leadership, his...." -- never mind, you know how these paeans run.

Next step? I hate predicting anything to do with Indian cricket, but this is an easy call to make. As president of the CAB, Dalmiya remains eligible for election to the supreme post, namely, head of the BCCI. So, what is the betting (dirty word, I know, but still) that either this September, or at the latest, the next, A C Muthaiah will realise that the pressures of running an industrial empire leave him no time or energy to devote to cricket, and will therefore step down? And Dalmiya will be elected BCCI president in his place?

After all, "We need his guidance, his services, his leadership, his..."

Yeah, right. Like we need a hole in the head.

IF the flip flops by our administrators is amusing, then Manoj Prabhakar's ongoing tango with the media is equally hilarious. No sooner had l'affaire Hansie Cronje hit the spotlight, than friend Manoj was back in prime season form.

"See, I told you so," he yelled to all who would listen. Excuse me, did you hear Prabhakar saying anything about Cronje, or indeed about anyone other than this mysterious "senior Indian player", before this? "I have been vindicated," he adds for good measure, without quite explaining how.

Now on a roll, Prabhakar got back on his famous hobby horse, and raked up the issue of the Rs 25 lakh he was supposedly offered to play below par in Sri Lanka. "Match fixing," he said sententiously, "cannot happen without the knowledge of the captain and manager."

Now, the captain in the series in question was Mohammad Azharuddin. And the manager was Ajit Wadekar. The implication, thus, was pretty obvious.

Azharuddin reacted immediately, with a statement that he was in consultation with his lawyers, and would take suitable action. To which Prabhakar's response was, to those who have been following his doings off the field of play, predictable: "I did not mention Azhar or Wadekar by name," he goes.

Is it just me, or do you too get the feeling that Prabhakar is playing the cricketing version of a cabaret artiste -- a glimpse here, a glimpse there, a tantalising bit of leg elsewhere, all designed to tease, without any intention of going the whole hog and shedding all his clothes? That he has created a home-made industry out of this match-fixing crusade of his?

Is it just me, or do you too get the feeling that it is time the police force of this country took things seriously, hauled him in for an interrogation, and got him to reveal the names of whoever it is he keeps talking about? At least that way, we would know whether he is for really real, or merely playing the publicity game for all it's worth.

It is something that needs doing in a hurry. All these innuendoes, these coy suggestions and hints and leg-shows, are causing immense damage to the game. It's time for the truth -- whatever it may be -- to be spoken.

Meanwhile, Dalmiya has asked Prabhakar to either put up, or shut up. Don't talk to websites, talk to us, Dalmiya has asked.

Bravo! About time, too.

But even as I applaud, I can't help this little devil inside of my head, which whispers: Ah, another one of those sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing thingies, this. Typical of the quickfix way we operate. Is 'match fixing' becoming a bogey? Appoint a committee and bury it under a tonne of whitewash. Is Prabhakar becoming a nuisance? Announce a lawsuit, which will give the fans the idea that the BCCI means business -- and trust to to the shortness of public memory to forget all about it.

For instance, anyone remember this story? According to which, a Rs 50 million defamation suit had been filed by the board, against Prabhakar and others?


We at Rediff have first hand experience of the kind of 'lawsuits' these blokes file. Remember the famous Lele interview, done by Faisal Shariff?

When the interview appeared, nothing was said. But then, other newspapers picked it up and started asking hard questions. Like, how come a senior official of the BCCI was trashing the very team the BCCI itself had picked to tour Australia?

Realising that the foot was lodged firmly in the mouth, Lele immediately denied it. The board president went public with a statement that Lele should file suit against Rediff. Promptly, Lele responded that he had indeed filed suit against us.

Had he, hell. What happened was that through his lawyers, Lele sent us a formal notice. It asked us to retract the story, to apologise publicly for carrying it, and to pay Rs 50 million as damages (this fifty million figure, by the way, seems to be the BCCI's MRP -- some kind of price tag attached to its virtue, which anyone outraging said virtue is duly expected to ante up).

We responded, through out lawyers, that we were not retracting the story, that there was no question of apologising, and that we were not prepared to pay a penny, and would gladly see Lele and the BCCI in court.

End of story. From that day to this, we haven't heard anything further from the gentleman. No more outrage, no lawsuit, no nothing.

Why would we? He had, after all, accomplished his objective. He had made enough of a fuss to make people thing he was serious, that his 'virtue had been outraged' and he was going to fight like hell.

Having raised enough of a dust, he quietened down, assuming that people would move on to something else, and forget why he got himself in trouble in the first place.

Now you know why I don't feel like setting much store by Dalmiya's latest bluster?

And by the way, India is hardly unique in this -- remember this story?

Anyone heard any follow up to this one? Was the enquiry completed? What was the result? Anyone know?

It is a natural phenomenon, really. When I was in college, I remember waking from one of my periodic naps, in time to hear the lecturer tell us about one form of squid. Apparently, whenever it felt threatened by enemies, it would release into the water a squirt of foul-smelling, inky black fluid. And escape in the confusion.

Now who -- or what -- does that remind you of?

REVERTING to the contents of my mailbox, several readers have written in to say that they have heard the tape, and the voice is not that of Hansie Cronje.

Equally interestingly, South African journalist Trevor Chesterfield, in a story that was promptly picked up and played up by the media in that part of the world, has called the tape a hoax, and indicated that the voices heard on it are those of two Asians.

Strange. If you listened to the tape in question, the very first words you hear are: "This is a simulation."

Here's the how of it: Firstly, the police have sealed the tape, and no one -- no one -- has been allowed to hear it. What the police released, as part of its FIR, was a partial transcript -- which, obviously, was typewritten text.

This gave the television channels a headache -- they couldn't obviously show the pages of the transcript and expect the viewers to read the words off the screen. So they got two people into the sound studio, and had them read out the conversation, one playing 'Sanjay', the other playing 'Hansie'. Both the readers are Indians. And the entire thing is a simulation of the transcript. Sort of like someone reading out a book.

That in turn brings up a larger question, and links to a conversation I was having with a senior Indian player over the weekend. In course of the conversation, by way of playing devil's advocate, I asked, "But what if the tape is a hoax in its entirety?"

The player in question responded as follows: "You know, you guys are funny. Suppose the transcript had contained words to the effect that Sachin Tendulkar had been out for such low scores, or Anil Kumble had bowled occasional bad spells, or Rahul Dravid had batted so slowly, or Saurav Ganguly had got out when he did, because 'Sanjay' had arranged for it, everyone would have believed every word of it. But if it happens to be a non-subcontinental cricketer, you are all ready to find excuses like, no, he won't do it, he is a practising Christian, or whatever. Of course Shane Warne and Mark Waugh are innocent, they only took 100s of dollars for reading out weather reports, right?"

Frankly, I'd think he has a point there.

I am not saying, officially or personally, that Hansie Cronje is guilty as charged. It is not my business to pronounce verdict, without having access to the evidence. It is the business of the police, both here in Delhi and now Interpol as well, to build a case; it is the business of those accused, whoever they are, to defend themselves; it is the business of the judges to consider the evidence, pro and con, and come up with their verdict.

But just as I find it hard to understand people who jump to condemn, I find it equally hard to understand those who jump to dismiss the whole thing as a fabrication. Hard to understand the "He is not that kind of person" line of thinking. I mean, which criminal carries around his neck a placard proclaiming his criminal intentions? Is it simply a matter of face reading after all? You line up a bunch of blokes, and they file past the jury, and the jury goes, no, this guy is too nice, he wouldn't have done anything; this guy's face sucks, give him life without the option?

A case has been registered. Charges have been filed. Further investigations are on. Due process is underway. So what is with this unholy rush to write the verdict before the case is even heard, anyways?

MEANWHILE, the Hansie Cronje press conference was rather interesting.

Repeatedly, Cronje says that he has not taken any money from any bookie.

Fair enough. I find myself wishing, though -- just to set my mind at ease -- that he had said something different.

I mean, this case, as filed thus far, centers on conversations that Cronje allegedly had with a bookie, right? Given that, I find myself wishing that the statement had been a shade more all-inclusive, and categorical.

I find myself wishing that Cronje had said words to this effect: 'I have no knowledge of any Sanjay, I have never had any conversation with any bookmaker at any time, and the conversation supposedly contained in that transcript is one I was not a party to.'

Another point kind of jumps out at you, rather. When the story broke, one of the first people to spring to Cronje's defence was former coach Bob Woolmer. Who spoke of how, way back in 1996, Cronje was approached by an Indian bookie, and of how the SA skipper immediately informed Woolmer about it. 'If Hansie were the kind to do such a thing, he could have done it in 1996 itself, why did he tell me about it then?' Woolmer asked, with sound logic.

Trouble being, in this press conference, Cronje says, flat out, that he was not approached by any bookie in 1996. Which seems to undercut the defence Woolmer mounted, somewhat. And makes the former Protean coach into something of a liar, what's more.

NO day, no perusal of the mailbox, is ever complete without its share of laughs -- and this mail (and a few others) had us chuckling:

"Mr. Panicker, If I were you, I wouldn't jump the gun on the match-fixing issue.

It appears to me that certain individuals within the Delhi police have made an awful faux pas. Before assailing the integrity of someone like Cronje, they should have attempted to build an airtight case. This they have clearly failed to do, which is not surprising considering the general level of incompetence in India. Announcing an arrest warrant for Cronje without even doing a voice analysis on the tapes is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of. The tape is most likely a hoax, and I sincerely doubt that it will stand up in a court of law. The most likely outcome, to my mind, is a major embarrassment for the Delhi police, and, collectively, for Indians all over the globe.

"I never thought the day would come when I would be forced to compliment Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya. In the current situation, however, he is doing the right thing -- in his own inarticulate and ungrammatical way -- by playing it coy. You, too, ought to have responded cautiously. But then caution never has been a virtue attributable to you, has it?

"Hoping that Rediff will broadcast live the occasion of your eating humble pie,

"Yours sincerely..."

Ummmm... apparently it is wrong for the Delhi police to have "jumped the gun" on the basis of evidence in hand, but it is okay for the reader concerned to jump to conclusions ('the tape is most likely a hoax', and suchlike) about the validity of the evidence itself, without ever having examined it.

But what is most amusing is the bit about Rediff broadcasting, live, my breakfast of humble pie.


Apparently, if the case falls flat, the blame will be laid at my door.

I don't mind, actually. Because by that logic, if the Delhi police actually prove that case, I will presumably be given the entire credit for having cracked a huge scam. And who knows, Rediff might even broadcast it live!

Prem Panicker

Mail Prem Panicker