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June 21, 2000


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The silence is striking

Ashwin Mahesh

How the mighty have fallen. Mohammad Azharuddin was the poster-boy for much that was right about Indian cricket. Opportunity for the genuinely talented, the absence of bigotry in selecting those who shall play for and lead the team, the unquestioning respect for the umpire's verdict. In him, we saw the unsophisticated but talented younsters gain their genuine place in the side, and in that we found much satisfaction.

So he didn't inspire us, but what of it? In the midst of a lengthy run of deviousness from the cricket establishment and endless rounds of finger-pointing and blabbering, the worst one might have said of Azhar was that he was indifferent to the goings-on around him. He wasn't suave like Sunny, or quick to his wits like Ravi Shastri, not the belligerent fighter Kapil was, but he was good enough to earn our appreciation for his natural talents, and sportsman enough to earn a measure of respect alongside.

What shall we make of the latest brouhaha, then? While I fault Azharuddin for raising issues irrelevant to the charges against him, I don't entirely overlook his ranting, either. If he now says that no interrogation took place in connection with any murder a few weeks back, it is fair to ask why various publications - Rediff included - reported that he had been questioned at that time. What was the final explanation for Sunil Gavaskar hoarding cash the way he did, anyway? And exactly why did Sachin Tendulkar's bride get gifts from a bookie? Did/does he know any bookies, and that the gift was from one such?

Like many others, I've been bitterly disappointed at the possibility of Azhar's involvement in match-fixing. But not for the slightest time do I believe he is alone in such culpability. Let's ask ourselves a few simple questions about match-fixing? The devil, as Cronje might like to pretend, is in the details, and that's where we have to look.

(*) Can you fix a match by buying off the middle-order batsmen, say a Jadeja or an Azharuddin? What if they don't get to bat?

(*) Can you fix a match without buying off a bowler or two? What if your bowlers are too good, and simply overturn your underhand dealings?

(*) Can you fix a match without the captain's knowledge? What if he doesn't use your fixer the way you imagined?

I'm sure you can think of other questions, but there are some parallels that run through the accusations, on all the continents. And alongside, there are glaring omissions that must raise eyebrows.

(*) Are we being asked to believe that Azhar merely tried to fix matches, or that he actually succeeded in doing so?

(*) Who did he actually rope in? Specifically, were opening batsmen involved, and opening bowlers involved? The Gibbs/Williams/Crookes fiasco should be very revealing; without the participation of those who take first crack at the game, it gets pretty hard to fix things.

Within the Indian context, I'd like to see those specific questions answered, for a start. The trouble is, partly, that this is India we are talking about. No doubt, like me you've heard the word doing the cricketing rounds. That while the King Commission latches on to all and sundry in its attempt to cleanse South African cricket, while Judge Quayyum made a decent and transparent attempt to deal with the Pakistani strain of the virus, and while even the ACB made a half-hearted attempt at steering its stars away from betting on the sport, in the cradle of betting itself, not a soul has stirred.

And, the story goes, this is a deep embarrassment for India. It's the sort of allegation - that crookedness is a way of life in India - that stings.

The charge itself, of course, is quite unfounded. For the very fact that it speaks against it - Indians are just as eager to get to the bottom of this as anyone else. The embarrassment, if any, is better laid specifically at the doors of those vested with the power to act on our behalf in the sport, and in public life in general - specifically, the BCCI and CBI.

Let's take each in turn. The bigwigs of the BCCI have maintained an exemplary silence in the face of scathing accusations. Jaywant Lele thinks that Indian complicity is "rubbish"; meanwhile, everyone is eager to point out that he thought exactly the same of the Delhi tapes. I suppose one might dismiss Lele as either an incompetent functionary bowing to pressure from above or simply an artful proponent of the foot-in-mouth syndrome. But what of those supposedly more responsible figures?

A.C.Muthiah? Kishen Rungta? Jagmohan Dalmiya? What do these worthies have to say? Even less, as it turns out. Pretty much everyone who figures in the administration of cricket in India is hoping that an overdose of silence will kill the stories. That alongside the game itself might take a severe beating is of little consequence to them, it appears. The fans, of course, have drawn the obvious conclusion. Non-cooperation from the authorities and the players is a sign of one of two things - guilt or incompetence - and the fans have mostly placed their bets - ouch! - on the former. In fanspeak, the board is crooked, and so are the players.

The convenient excuse for their shenanigans, of course, is the ongoing investigation within the Central Bureau of Investigation, an organization whose record of tackling corruption and crime is yet to make even the slightest dent on the positive side. Who was the last famous/popular person that the Central Bureau of Investigation brought to trial and successfully prosecuted to conviction?

Sukh Ram, you think? Who had been caught with bedsheets full of money? Hardly, for he was only protecting party funds from potential burglars. Never mind that said burglars would have needed a convoy to carry away that much cash. Ottavio Quattrocchi? He, of the mafiosi mindset, who negotiated arms purchases for the world's third-largest army, despite his obviously lack of training or qualifications for the job? Narsimha Rao, the bribe-give par excellence? Jayalalitha? Laloo Yadav? The accused from the Delhi riots or the mosque demolitions?

Certainly not. For, according to the First Law of Investigation in India, the greater the crime, the less likely your chances of being prosecuted.

Yes, the stain of inaction in the face of worldwide condemnation and scrutiny is shocking. But the silence of the bigwigs speaks volumes, nevertheless. Whether Azharuddin is found to be unfit to represent India any further is not the only question we should be attempting to answer. We should have an unequivocal reason to believe that he is any less fit to be in the squad than anyone else. If he gets dropped without that accompanying bit, the cricketing world, both within and outside India, is bound to go on imagining the same things that have always been said of India, that the crooks in the administration have once again Completely Botched It.

Ashwin Mahesh

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