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May 30, 2000


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The proof of the pudding...

Prem Panicker

"But where is the proof?"

THE other day, I listened in some bemusement to Sunil Gavaskar telling Harsha Bhogle, on Star Sports, that the ongoing stories about betting, match-fixing et al are tantamount to 'trial by media'. That we, in the media, are damning people without trial.

The same morning, in the newspapers, I read everyone from BCCI officials to former players to eminent lawyers arguing that the Manoj Prabhakar videotapes are not conclusive proof of anything.

Taken together, the two statements only told me two things -- one, that commonsense is the most uncommon commodity there is and two, that everyone concerned would rather this whole thing dies down and it becomes business as usual.

Let's look at this trial by media thing. A trial can result in one of two verdicts -- innocent, or guilty. For over three years now, everyone -- from board administrators to the Gavaskars (incidentally, I wish former players like Gavaskar, Shastri et al, who today do commentary on television and write columns in various periodicals, would realise they too are part of the very media they condemn so vigorously) and sundry retired judges have been solemnly assuring us that there is nothing wrong with Indian cricket. And their statements have been duly reported in the media.

What does this amount to? Simply this -- it amounts to the above-mentioned individuals and groups engaging in a trial of Indian cricket, and pronouncing it innocent, a verdict the press has duly reported. But no one, then, said that this was tantamount to trial by media.

Today, though, when the media underlines the ills in Indian cricket, when the media asks hard questions, everyone gets hot and bothered about 'trial by media'. And this tells me only one thing -- everyone is happy if the media would collude with them in a huge conspiracy to make it appear as though all is well in this best of all possible cricketing worlds. Only let the media talk of the worms lurking beneath that beautiful garden of Eden, though, and everyone cries bloody murder.

Strange. Is the media supposed to selectively report news? To report only the pretty statements, not the ugly ones? I thought that was the job of a PR agency -- not the press?

Which brings us to the issue of whether the Prabhakar tapes are proof of anything.

Did the government of India appoint Prabhakar as its deputed investigator, and I happened to miss the news?

Investigating, finding proof, bringing it to the attention of the court, holding a trial, and finding out who is guilty and who is innocent, is the job of the police, the investigating agency, the courts. It is not the job of a private citizen -- at least, it wasn't, last I heard.

But that is not to say Prabhakar's tapes are worthless -- actually, they are worth their weight in 24karat gold. For why? Simple:

All this while, what have we been hearing from the administrators? That Indian cricket couldn't be cleaner if it was thoroughly washed in Surf Excel. That there is no betting, no match-fixing, no bribery, no nothing -- just a bunch of fine upstanding blokes going out there and performing to the best of their abilities.

We were assured of all this, by the people running the game. These people, voicing these beliefs, have over the years done their best to ensure that there is never an investigation into the dark underbelly of Indian cricket.

And we -- at least, the less cynical section of fans -- took their sayings at face value. We thought they were telling the truth as they saw it. And we invested in their veracity and accepted the game as clean, and we continued to support it.

But what do they really think?

Jagmohan Dalmiya thinks that some players and some others are corrupt, and that they could be taking money not in their own names, but in the names of their relatives and friends. In benami deals, in other words.

Jaywant Lele, the man who mouthed all that self-serving rubbish about cricket being clean at press briefing after press briefing, thinks that cricket is dirty, that at least two current players, plus the coach, are dirty, and says further that he had done his best to inform Dalmiya of this and ensure that Kapil Dev was not appointed coach.

Ajit Wadekar, the man who, from his lofty pedestal of captain-turned-manager, gave Indian cricket the cleanest of chits, admits that he lied to the Chandrachud commission and cynically adds, "Anyway, who reads that report?"

Sanjay Manjrekar, the man who was out in the middle with Prabhakar during one of the alleged instances of match-fixing, believes that Chandrachud only asked him those questions that suited him.

And so it goes on, a sorry litany.

And every statement only serves to underline one fact -- that those concerned with cricket and its administration believe that the game is unclean. That is what Prabhakar's tapes prove. And that is all he needed to prove.

Now it is up to the administration to do two things -- first, tell us why it deliberately decieved us all these years and two, ensure that at least now, there is a proper enquiry, helmed by a sitting judge with the full weight of the law backing him, to probe Indian cricket, to identify and punish the guilty. No more can the administration pretend that all is well -- because we know now that they don't believe that, themselves.

The tapes also give the CBI a valuable weapon. If, tomorrow, the CBI were to question say Wadekar, or Lele, and if they were to repeat their 'Polly wants a cracker' line about cricket being clean, they can then be confronted with their own candid statements, and asked to explain.

And that is the real value of the Prabhakar tapes -- and the reason why he deserves a round of applause. Because he has busted the code of omerta that had till date cast a purdah over the game and its villains, and exposed the administration as a bunch of conniving, conspiring, hypocrites.

And while on the subject of the Prabhakar tapes -- one other thought occurs. I don't know about you -- to me, the most shocking thing on that tape was Navjot Singh Sidhu pleading with Prabhakar to not involve him in all this, because he owes Kapil Dev a debt of gratitude for having given him his chance to play.

Excuse me? Does Navjot Singh Sidhu owe anything at all to the game that made him a celebrity? To Indian cricket, for what he is today? To the fans, who supported him and his team all these years?

Was Sidhu playing, all these years, for India? Or for Kapil Dev? Where does his greater loyalty lie? More accurately, where should it lie?

We cricket followers lament that there is no team spirit within this bunch. Now we know why -- the players play for Kapil, or Wadekar, or Lele, or Azhar, or Sachin, or whoever gave them their chance. Not, it would seem, for India.

By the same token, we hear Shastri and a few others saying they feel betrayed by a fellow cricketer clandestinely taping them. Will they, I wonder, pause a moment to think of how the fans feel, to know that they deliberately concealed their knowledge or their suspicions and pretended that everything was all rosy?

Part II: A moratorium on cricket

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