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May 27, 2000


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'Say it ain't so, Joe...'

Prem Panicker

IT was all of 81 years ago that one of the most poignant moments in sporting history gave birth to one of the most famous sports quotes of all time.

That was the year the Chicago White Sox threw the baseball World Series to benefit gamblers. When the news broke, it bred this image -- of a young White Sox supporter standing in front of legendary White Sox outfielder Joe 'Shoeless' Jackson, sobbing, 'Say it ain't so, Joe...'

For almost four years now, ever since the first whispers of match-fixing began doing the rounds, the Indian fan has been similarly lamenting. 'Please, Joe, say it ain't so...'

Unlike that White Sox fan, the Indian cricket enthusiast has had no dearth of Joes telling him it ain't so. Y V Chandrachud said so. Raj Singh Dungarpur, when he was president of the BCCI, said so. Kapil Dev said so. Ajit Wadekar, who has in turn been captain, and manager, said so. A C Muthaiah, Raj Singh's successor, said so as recently as the last fortnight, flying in the face of all the evidence. And finally, no less than Jaywant Lele said so -- so of course, it has to be so.

Meanwhile, the clamour of skeletons, thus far immured in various closets and now clambering to get out, becomes more defeaning by the day.

It ain't a case any more, Joe, of saying it ain't so. It is just a case, Joe, of 'For God's sake, tell us the truth, no matter how brutal it is, and let's move on'.

The essential tragedy of Indian cricket today, though, is that none -- no one -- of those involved seem to be even halfway serious about getting at the truth, about solving the problem. None -- no one -- seems willing to do something concrete to address the pain, the tears, of those fans who have invested incredible amounts of emotional energy in a game that now stands tarnished beyond repair.

Manoj Prabhakar? Maybe he did Indian cricket a service by talking openly about the shady dealings, and thus focussing public attention on an issue that, till then, was merely whispered about when players, journalists and administrators foregathered for their regular tryst with Mr Jack Daniels.

Maybe, too, he has a point when he says that he kept his peace all these years because there seemed to be no point in talking about what he knew. For it turns out, now, that within 24 hours of the alleged incident, he had spoken about it to various people. To his then captain, Mohammad Azharuddin. To his then manager, Ajit Wadekar. To well-respected seniors like Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar, who had the standing, the stature, to have taken the complaint to the highest quarters, to have forced an official inquiry, to have settled the issue one way or the other. And yet, they all -- Wadekar, Azhar, Shastri, Gavaskar -- chose to maintain their peace, under one pretext or the other.

When the stink finally threatened to rupture our nostrils and the board was forced to take notice, all that resulted was a monumental coverup authored by Y V Chandrachud. Why then would anyone in his right mind want to reveal details, when it was painfully clear that the administration preferred to see no evil?

Fair enough. But that climate has now changed. The issues are being discussed openly. There is an investigation of sorts on. But what does Prabhakar do? He plays games. He milks the situation for maximum mileage. Rather than reveal everything he knows, he chooses to tease, to tantalise, like an amateurish cabaret artiste. One day, he reveals a name. Two days later, he suggests that Lele had mentioned some names -- and goes, 'Let me see if he will tell the truth'. 48 hours later, he airs taped conversations with various people.

And the word we are getting is that there is a whole lot more to come. Tapes. Documents. Copies of cheques. And other evidence -- which Prabhakar will, soap opera style, reveal in little dribbles -- a media conference here, a little nugget there. Without, it would seem, realising that contrary to his stated goal of cleaning up the game, all he is doing is prolonging indefinitely the agony of the Indian cricket fan.

Kapil Dev? What does one say about an erstwhile great who is descending from icon to embarassment at dizzying speed? When Sujata Prakash, a few days ago, wrote an article suggesting that Kapil Dev did himself a disservice by blubbering all over BBC, she was flooded with hate mail (which the writers were 'kind enough' to forward to me as well).

I am not sure why. Forget passion (the same kind of passion, incidentally, that led to a national, and international, outcry against the Delhi police when they first outed the Cronje tapes) and look, if you will, at the situation in the light of cold reason.

Remember the time Kapil Dev was installed as national coach? At the time, there was a rush of indignation against his predecessor. We were told that Anshuman Gaikwad, for all that he is a nice guy, had failed dismally to deliver the goods with this Indian team. That he had failed to infuse in them the 'fighting spirit', the 'killer instinct', they so badly needed. We needed a coach who could do that -- and the ultimate fighter in Indian cricket, we were told, was Kapil Dev.

Since that time, we barely scraped through a home series against New Zealand. Never mind, we said, we won anyways and Kapil is still new in the job. We then went to Australia, and were mauled mercilessly. We came back home to take on South Africa, and for the first time in 13 years we lost a home series. We then won a one-day series against the Proteas -- only, it now turns out that Hansie Cronje was playing for India, in a manner of speaking.

Do we, who were so quick to condemn Gaikwad, and his predecessor Madan Lal, have a word to say about the complete lack of results under the present coach? No -- because Kapil Dev is an icon, and icons can do no wrong.

We want him to teach the Indian team to fight back? Sorry if this sounds rude, but I for one lost that particular hope when Kapil bawled all over Karan Thapar. Now, the best I can hope for is that the Indian captain, after the next defeat, won't emulate his coach and cry all over cable television.

At the time, we were also told that Kapil was outraged by 'third party allegations', that he proposed to fight Inderjit Singh Bindra all the way. Now, it is no longer a third party allegation -- it is Manoj Prabhakar himself naming Kapil Dev as the man who offered him all that money. And that in turn sparks the most ridiculous example of undignified conduct I have ever seen. Kapil Dev calls a press conference, for why? To do a reprise of a bad Dharmendra film?

Main maa ka doodh piya hai, bhakre ka nahin...?!!!

For the love of the lord, what does his feeding habits as a baby have to do with anything?

'When I come across him, I'll give him a tight (sic!) slap!'

Good grief. Manoj Prabhakar is in Delhi, Kapil Dev is (or was, at the time) in Delhi. If Kapil wanted to, he could have easily come vis a vis Prabhakar and done whatever he wanted to. Instead, he summons the entire media to talk of what he will do, in a fashion that makes you wonder who writes his scripts. David Dhawan, you think?

That display was, to put it mildly, a complete embarassment.

As was Kapil Dev's repeated attempts to reduce the issue to a cricketing comparison between himself and Prabhakar. "Compare Manoj Prabhakar's performance with my achievements, and you will get the answer. Tell him to compare his performance with mine, and I will quit cricket."

The question, though, is not about which of the two is the better cricketer. Just as the question in Pakistan was not whether Salim Malik was a better batsman than Rashid Latif.

How much more dignified would it have been, had Kapil Dev merely collected his various bank records, his income tax statements and all other relevant information, walked into the CBI office, placed it all before the investigating agency and demanded that they look into his records, and either clear, or confirm, the charge against him?

Instead, we have the CBI saying that it thinks it will be embarassing to summon Kapil Dev. And Kapil Dev saying he will depose before the CBI if summoned.

Does that little tango tell you something?

For years now, we have been hearing of match-fixing. And none of the seniors of stature, including Kapil Dev, had a word to say about it. Ever since Indian cricket's Salome, Manoj Prabhakar, threw aside the first of his seven veils and coyly hinted at a 'former captain', there was silence from the senior cricketer(s). When media and fans alike jumped to the conclusion that it was Azhar who was being talked about, there was silence still. When Jadeja's name, and that of Nayan Mongia, were tossed around, mum was the word. And then came Bindra's little number on CNN (While on the subject, does it strike you that various parties are using what can only be called the gang rape of Indian cricket for their own little ends? One chooses to detonate a little bomb on CNN -- where his relative holds a senior position. Another chooses to name names, and summons the media to a press briefing -- at the office of a website run by journalists with whom he has had a long association, on the day of that site's launch!).

Anyways. Bindra explodes his little bombshell. And immediately, comes comment: 'India should stop playing international cricket till the whole thing has been investigated and everyone's name cleared'.

I wonder? If, tomorrow, I am accused of some kind of wrongdoing relating to my work here in Rediff, I wonder if my CEO will take kindly to the suggestion that all activity in Rediff stop until my name is cleared?

I am not, here, holding a brief for Prabhakar. Nor trying to write a 'guilty' verdict on Kapil Dev before the facts are in. I am merely wondering -- based on recent events -- whether anyone involved is even halfway serious about resolving this issue.

When the government handed over the probe to the CBI, there was a little ray of hope. But now, even that is rapidly eroding -- because we are told by the CBI official helming the probe that the agency is working with both hands tied behind its back. We are, too, given a clue to the eventual outcome by none other than the board president himself. I could have understood it if Muthaiah, at the end of the BCCI's two day jamboree in Delhi recently, had with reference to the match-fixing allegations said merely that it was under investigation, and he would refrain from comment until the probe was completed and the findings known, and in the interim, the board would cooperate in any way required with the investigating authority.

But no. What he says, instead, is that there is no match fixing in Indian cricket and all its players are clean. If that is what he believes, then why, pray, the CBI probe? To apply another coat of whitewash on top of Chandrachud's amateurish effort?

Against this background, I find myself looking, with a mixture of envy and sadness, towards Justice Malik Mohammad Quayyum. And the Pakistan cricket administration.

The PCB appointed a sitting judge to carry out the probe. Which means that the commission had the rights to subpoena records, to compel attendance, to take action against non-compliance. To, in general, wield a pretty big stick.

And Justice Quayyum carried out his brief to perfection. You cannot help but contrast the report he turned out with the one our very own Chandrachud authored, and be struck by the enormous difference between the two. Chandrachud was vague, factually incorrect, obviously covering up. Despite allegations by interested parties, the glorious game of cricket will live for ever, was what Chandrachud came up with. Whereas Quayyum has been specific. He has spared no one, even going to extent of saying that while charges against Akram could not be conclusively proved because of Ata-ur-Rehman's flip-flops, there was grounds to believe that Akram was not above board, that he deserved to be kept away from the captaincy, and closely monitored through what remains of his career. Further, he has frowned on attempts to lead him up the garden path, prescribing fines for those players who, he thought, were being less than co-operative with the commission. And finally, he has come up with concrete, well reasoned suggestions to ensure that betting and bribery be kept at bay, at least within Pakistan cricket circles.

Will the Indian board look to its neighbour? And learn the lessons that stare it in the face? Or will it remain content to emulate the three monkeys, while Indian cricket, and its fans, are dragged through the mire one painful step at a time?

Tailpiece: When Inderjit Singh Bindra spoke out against Jagmohan Dalmiya, the board was very quick to issue him with a show cause notice for speaking out of turn. Strangely, the board failed to show similar speed when it came to the likes of Purushottam Rungta and Kamal Morarka, both of whom took their travelling roadshow from Mumbai to Delhi, holding press conferences and speaking about Bindra's deal with a soft drinks giant.

And now there is Lele. Who, on tape, tells Prabhakar that Azhar, Jadeja and Kapil are involved. Further, that he had brought his feelings to the attention of Jagmohan Dalmiya, and tried to persuade him not to appoint Kapil as coach.

Lele -- whose chronic inability to tell the truth has caused the board enormous embarassment during his tenure -- was in top form on this one. When Prabhakar first suggested that he had a conversation with Lele on the issue of match-fixing, the board secretary went into knee-jerk denial mode. He said that Prabhakar had come to his place to invite him for a private function; that the issue of match-fixing was never, ever, discussed.

Then came the tapes. And Lele, whose wriggling skills would be the envy of an earthworm, told my colleague Faisal Shariff over the phone last night that he had been misquoted. How, Faisal wanted to know, could someone be misquoted on a tape-recording? At which Lele says, I was merely saying that anyone could name any name. But then, Faisal persisted, what did you mean when you said in response to Prabhakar's question about why Kapil was named coach: "It was a big mistake. I swear on my wife that I had told Jagmohan Dalmiya about it. And I told Dalmiya that this is your third big mistake"? At which point, Lele banged the phone down, screaming something about it all being lies.

Some questions relating to this interest me enormously.

1) The last time Lele made a statement -- to Rediff, about what he thought the outcome of the Australian series would be -- and retracted, he was censured by the board president. More recently, in the BCCI conclave in Delhi earlier this month, it was decided that only the board president would speak about match-fixing, and Lele was expressly told to shut up. Will the board now take action against him, for directly contravening that order?

2) Lele says he had informed Jagmohan Dalmiya about his misgivings in re Kapil Dev. Will Mr Dalmiya confirm? And tell us why, given that one of his fellow officials was voicing grave doubts about the coach-designate, he didn't see the need to investigate?

3) Will Lele kindly explain (unfortunately, Faisal appears to have put him off to such an extent that he now refuses to answer the phone) why, when Muthaiah is the board president, he went running to Jagmohan Dalmiya with his misgivings? More so given that Dalmiya is the ICC president and as such -- as Dalmiya has himself repeatedly assured us -- has no voice in the running of Indian cricket, nor any say in the internal workings of the BCCI?

And finally, will Kapil Dev sue Lele? And will the board pay the court expenses of both Lele and Kapil Dev, in their fight against one another?

And in passing -- will Mr Dalmiya please deliver on his threat to sue India Today and Outlook? In fact, the ICC chairman informed us that he had in fact filed cases against those two publications. It turns out that he has merely been asked by the court to send thhe two publications a legal notice as the pre-requisite to filing charges. And the editors of both publications are still waiting, apparently, for the promised notices.

Editor's note: Prem Panicker's column was written on May 26th, before the sensational revelations that came tumbling out on Saturday May 27.

Related Stories:

"I swear I told Jagmohan Dalmiya...' -- Lele

Prabhakar tapes doctored, says Lele

CBI unfit to probe match-fixing, says former chief

Dear Kapil -- the Sujata Prakash column

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