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|April 11, 2000||
The feline's out of the bagPrem Panicker
So that is that -- after all the bluster, the claims that the tapes produced by the Delhi police are a hoax, the threats of diplomatic action against India and all the rest of it, it turns out that Hansie Cronje was actually caught with his hands in the cookie jar.
Ironically, he admits guilt, and quits (or is sacked, it is not quite clear which), one win short of getting 100 ODI wins to his name -- which seems to indicate that match-fixing is not the prerogative of losing sides alone.
At the time of writing this, we are told by media sources in South Africa that Cronje will, in his meeting with South Africa's deputy foreign minister, confess to his role in match-fixing, but will at the same time say that his mates are innocent.
I'm afraid that cat won't jump -- if Cronje confesses, it ipso facto validates the tapes. On that tape, now logically validated, Cronje says Gibbs and Boje will score under 20 -- they scored 19 and 14 the next day. On the same tape, Cronje says that Klusener has already done his bit in Cochin -- where the all-rounder was out, second ball, for a duck to the bowling of Rahul Dravid. It is a stretch for Cronje, thus, to admit culpability and at the same time deny his team-mates' involvement.
Meanwhile, will someone spare a thought for the Delhi police? The minute the story broke, the consensus of reaction, both within India and abroad, was that the police had goofed. Bumbled. Fumbled. That they had created, for India, an international embarassment.
Strangely, no one was prepared to take them at face value, preferring to believe Cronje's denial rather than the police accusation. Preferring to put their faith in Cronje's facade of innocence, even if it meant trashing the competence of the concerned policemen. The likes of Jagmohan Dalmiya and Jaywant Lele were the first off the starting blocks, in calling the police case "rubbish" -- which is true to form for both those gentlemen, who, ostrich-like, will only see what they want to see, no more, no less.
Maybe it is time to put our hands together for the Delhi police, who have done more -- far more -- for the cause of cricket than the Dalmiyas and Chandrachuds have done. Maybe it is time to give them a round of resounding applause.
Because for the first time, and thanks to their efforts, match-fixing, betting and bribery are no longer innuendoes voiced by disgruntled former players like Rashid Latif and Manoj Prabhakar. The Delhi cops have, by filing criminal charges, raised it to the status of a real-live issue that no one can wish away any longer.
An allegation can be whitewashed through the medium of a Chandrachud commission. Or even aired, then ignored, through the medium of a Quayyum commission (ironically, PCB chief General Zia told Rediff that he is yet to see a copy of Justice Quayyum's report).
Each time a question has been asked about the state of cricket, the answers, from the establishment, have been uniform, and predictable. 'All this is rubbish!' 'There is no match fixing and bribery in cricket'. 'We will file a suit of defamation'. 'We can categorically state that...'
If someone game me a pound for each time I've heard the likes of Dalmiya and Lele utter those lines, I could retire and lead a life of luxury.
However, a police case, and an admission of guilt, can neither be ignored, nor wished away, or indeed swept under the carpet by the establishment. Neither the BCCI secretary, nor the ICC chairman, can now turn round and say Cronje's admission is 'rubbish'.
And that is the real gain out of this unsavoury development.
It's a very, very big gain. Because it now forces the cricket establishment to, first, admit the truth and second, to initiate action towards a comprehensive clean-up.
Furthering the process is the fact that the government is now, finally, prepared to take a hand and involve itself in the doings of the thus-far inviolate BCCI. Vide the summons to Dalmiya, Lele, Ganguly, Kapil Dev, Azharuddin and Ajit Wadekar to appear before the minister of state for sports. From what we are told by our sources, the government, with an ironclad reason now in hand, is now prepared to push the BCCI into a corner, to force a thorough investigation, to begin a process of clean-up.
It has in fact already begun. The South African government has informed Indian High Commissioner Harsh Bhasin that it is now prepared to cooperate fully with Indian authorities in the ongoing investigations.
That is a development every cricket fan in this country will applaud, will welcome.
It goes back to what one senior Indian player told me, a year or so ago. We were talking of the Quayyum commission, and he said, in one moment of angst: "Hell, I wish we had something of the kind in India -- if we could weed out three, four players, the rest of us could settle down to playing proper cricket."
Meanwhile, the cops themselves are in no mood to ease off. They talk of 12 tapes in their possession, comprising seven hours of conversation spread over more than 10 days. Tapes that detail the fixes to be applied to various games in the one day series between India and South Africa. Tapes that talk of what will be done in the event of South Africa batting first, and what is to be done when SA chases. Tapes that spell out details and mode of payment.
Those tapes, and the interrogation of Rajesh Kalra, who runs a printing press in the Okhla industrial estate area in Delhi and who according to the crime branch is Delhi's biggest gambling operator, with international connections, are meanwhile set to open more than one can of beans. For starters, police sources indicate that two Indian players were named in course of the conversations -- which make them the obvious targets of investigation by the crime branch, and enforcement authorities.
Interestingly, Rajesh Kalra under investigation has also revealed that the nexus between Sanjeev Chawla, owner and operator of a series of garment stores in London, and Hansie Cronje is of very old standing. According to investigators, Cronje and Chawla are old friends, and the latter has in fact travelled to South Africa in the past as Cronje's guest.
Which in turn raises a mare's nest of questions -- the most important one being, how many other games, in how many other venues around the world, were fixed?
'Wait and see,' a senior police officer told Rediff. 'All this is nothing compared to the surprises that will come in the next few days.'
Mail Prem Panicker
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