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April 22, 2000


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The outlook is murky

Harsha Bhogle

So the mist is clearing and even if it is much thicker than it was originally thought to be, that is great news. The greatest scandal in the history of the game will almost certainly turn out to be the greatest blessing in disguise.

But I am a little concerned at the licence that people have given themselves to attack others. This is not Mugabe's country and there is no physical harm yet inflicted, but the damage is being done and I suspect we need to tread a little more surely. To be sensational is one thing, to be certain is a better alternative.

I can see a reaction looming to this; that it is this attitude of holding back that has seen match fixing run rampant. So let me make it clear that I am not for holding back, I am only in favour of being sure before a damaging allegation is made, because to go wrong would be a horrible crime against a man later found to be innocent.

That was my first reaction to the Outlook cover story that names four players and says that they "were actively involved in match-fixing and betting in one way or another". The editor, Vinod Mehta has said they have enough evidence to see them through a libel case and there has never been reason to doubt anything he might say. I hope there is a legal reason for holding back on the evidence, because my sense of fair play tells me that if you are assigning criminal actions to a person's name in public, a reader must see proof.

I must confess as well that I am amazed that police officials are quite happy to talk to journalists about criminal activities of top cricketers without allowing their names to become public. So who are these officers, these men responsible for ensuring cleanliness in public life, who claim to know so much, who have evidence of wrongdoing, and yet have done nothing over the years? Aren't they as responsible as anyone else for letting this go on over the years because they chose to do nothing?

And how honest is it to leak recordings selectively? Either the tapes can be made public, or as in the Cronje affair the transcripts are released, or they are withheld. As things stand, it is one policeman's word against the reputation of four cricketers. As a member of the public, I don't want to rely on the word of a man, or his department, who sat on tapes for three and a half years and did nothing, and now, clothed in anonymity, is making small revelations. As a member of the public, I want to make my assessment of my heroes and I want to do so on the basis of all the information there is.

For all that you know, Outlook might be in the process of doing Indian cricket a huge favour. But I really do believe that if you name people, you should present irrefutable evidence. I am afraid though, that if what they mention is true, a lot of responsible people knew things and did nothing about it. That includes government officials and the BCCI, who have now come out with their own code of conduct. In doing so, they have made their first admission that they believe something is wrong.

If you are a player, though, all this would leave you a bit confused. The code of conduct, as reported in the newspapers, makes it obligatory to report to the BCCI, and to the local police, "any knowledge of advances to others". Apparently it is also a "punishable offence" not to do so. I think this is bizarre and I wonder how it is ever going to be implemented.

It is fair enough to say that a player should report an offer made to him but he should have to do so only to his governing body, not to the local police. That, if necessary, should be the responsibility of the BCCI. It is a decision for them to evaluate. How can you expect a 22 year old kid, who is probably excited by the idea of playing for India, to evaluate whether an offer made to him is a hoax or is serious, and then to trudge down to the nearest police station to report it ?! I honestly wish I hadn't read it !

It is nice though that the BCCI have finally decided to release the Chandrachud Report. It is a much maligned report but we now have the opportunity to judge that for ourselves. And that is how it should be.

So at the end of it all, whose responsibility is to see that errant players are hauled up? Is it the BCCI, who were apparently given information and did nothing? Is it the local police, who had tape-recorded evidence and did nothing? Or will it be left to smart journalists and crusading editors?

It is not very clean behind the mist !

Till then, let us revel in the glorious batting in the Ranji Trophy. Nobody would want to do anything there would they !!!

Harsha Bhogle

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