Fallen heroes in South Asian cricket

Dilrukshi Handunnetti | Published on June 6, 2011 at 3:06 am

Sri Lankan players celebrate during the test series against Pakistan in 2009


As Sri Lanka continues to grapple with match fixing controversies, former Sri Lankan skipper Hashan Thilakaratne is still to go public or before Colombo’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and actually spill the beans.

Just as he says, names of Sri Lankan cricketers have been linked many times to match fixing controversies. Only nothing has so far come out of it unlike elsewhere in the region.

Key to discovering the truth behind fixing matches, cricket or any other, is to identify the vast network that is in operation.  Revisiting the old cricket records can prove interesting. For example, two former Sri Lankan cricket captains’ names came up in a report produced by Indian investigators for ‘being introduced to bookmakers’ by Indian cricketer Manoj Prabhakar, the onetime whistleblower who made sensational disclosures about cricket match fixing in India.

The two Sri Lankans mentioned by India’s Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in its report for allegedly being introduced to bookies by Prabhakar are former captains, Arjuna Ranatunge and Aravinda de Silva.  Prabhakar has denied this in his statement to CBI. (http://www.yehhaicricket.com/CBI/players/ManojPrabhakar.html)

And there is former national skipper Hashan Thilakaratne playing the role of wanna -be whistleblower in the Sri Lankan match fixing saga. He prefers to hoard his ‘insights’ for an ‘appropriate time’.  His reference year being 1992, if his claims are true, then this nation has waited for 19 long years to hear Thilakaratne’s truth.

“We also want Thilakaratne to name the fixers. Either we name them or not make references that could be damaging to people’s reputation,” says Minister of Sports, Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

“Match fixing is difficult to prove. The process is very tedious,” says well known Indian investigative journalist Aniruddha Bahal who blew the lid off a sensational match fixing scam in India through his consistent reporting. His whistleblower Manoj Prabhakar, himself a former Indian player, named names and the disclosures compelled the reluctant Indian cricket authorities to take action. At the end, a five-year ban was imposed on Prabhakar himself by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) based on the findings of the CBI.

Bahal, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Cobrapost.com, a South Asian news portal and co- founder and chief executive officer of the popular Indian news website Tehelka.com recalls a time when sleaze and scandal rocked Indian cricket causing public outrage amidst allegations of   ‘throwing away of matches’.  “Sri Lankan names also emerged, but that’s more a matter for Sri Lanka to deal with”, says Bahal.

The Indian story holds many lessons for Sri Lanka and hence worth repeating. It was Prabhakar who fired the first cannon in 1997 by naming alleged match fixers in a signed article to the Delhi-based magazine, Outlook. He claimed of being offered Rs. 2.5 million (US $53,000) by a team mate to underperform in a match against Pakistan in 1994. Incidentally, the match was played in Sri Lanka.

Operation Fallen Heroes

Tehelka stepped in right there with its team of investigative reporters to blow the lid off India’s cricket in a name and shame sting operation that sought to identify the match fixing members of the Indian cricket team. 

Tehelka’s modus operandi was to send Manoj Prabhakar to meet players and officials with a hidden camera and get them to divulge details about match-fixing in Indian cricket.  Among those interviewed were Indian cricketers, cricket officials, politicians, bookies, journalists and film stars.

At the same time, showing the nexus, Pakistan’s Aamir Sohail spoke to Outlook magazine and claimed that two Indian players approached him during the ’94 Singer Cup in Sri Lanka to “fix” a one dayer. “I told them they’d come to the wrong guy, “he said, a statement that added credibility to Prabhakar’s testimonial. (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?203673)

With Tehelka and Outlook bowling the googlies, N.N. Khanna, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports in India referred the matter for criminal investigation. A rigorous investigation followed.

Based on the many interviews conducted and the analysis of evidence and reports, the Central Bureau of Investigation’ s(CBI) final report read: “The scope of the PE is broadly limited to the letter of Shri N.N. Khanna in which there is a general mention of various allegations as they had appeared in the media as well as issues raised during a debate in both the Houses of Parliament. The Ministry’s letter further requests the CBI to collect and evaluate various news-items and information published in both the print and electronic media and conduct a comprehensive enquiry into the allegations of match fixing and related malpractices connected with the game of cricket.” (http://www.yehhaicricket.com/CBI/cbi_report/match_fixing_report.html)

The CBI conducted a broad enquiry to ascertain whether match fixing and other malpractices connected with the game of cricket existed. The scope of inquiry included the following.
(1) to identify the betting syndicates operating in India and examine their activities;
(2) to unravel the linkage of cricket players or their intermediaries with these syndicates and their roles in the alleged malpractices; and
(3) to examine the role and function of BCCI so as to evaluate whether it could have prevented the alleged malpractices.

All available overt and covert information about players, ex-players, bookies and middlemen whose names that figured in the various media reports and through sources developed by CBI was shortlisted and all relevant facts regarding them including details of property, details of business associates, etc. collected.  The general public was requested to come forth with information, if any. An intensive analysis of telephone and mobile phone conversation printouts to establish a player-bookie nexus were also looked into. The Tehelka tapes were also studied.

Fixing the fixers

Based on the final CBI report, in April 2000, former Indian cricket capital Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma, who played for the country in one test match against the West Indies in 1989 were banned for life. Azharuddin admitted to fixing three one day internationals during the CBI inquisition. Ajay Jadeja, a middle-order batsman, Dr. Ali Irani, a physiotherapist, and, ironically, Manoj Prabhakar, who started the scandal by accusing others of fixing matches received five-year bans for their involvement with bookmakers.

“This is a sad day in the annals of Indian cricket,” A.C. Muthiah, chief of the BCCI, said after a meeting of the board’s disciplinary committee in Madras. He noted that “there is clear evidence of match fixing against Azharuddin,” and that “There also is evidence that Sharma acted as a conduit for match fixing. That’s why we clubbed the two of them together and gave life bans. Others had nexus with bookmakers and introduced players to the bookmakers, which is a serious breach of cricketing codes” he was quoted in the international media.

The CBI report also dedicated a full chapter of its report to the BCCI. The report said that while there was no evidence that any officials were involved in match fixing, such a widespread racket was not possible without their knowledge.

The report linked Sharma with Azharuddin, saying the former was responsible for introducing the bookmaker Mukesh Gupta to Azharuddin. Hansie Cronje, the South African captain was banned that October, and it was stated that Cronje claimed of being introduced to Gupta by Azharuddin in 1997 in India.

A bizarre aspect of this saga was the role of Manoj Prabhakar, the onetime whistleblower who played a critical role to bring to the authorities notice of cricket match fixing through his signed article to Outlook claiming of being offered 2.5 million rupees ($53,000) by a teammate to underperform in a match against Pakistan in 1994. Prabhakar much later named Kapil Dev as the player who approached him.

The CBI exonerated Kapil Dev but insisted that Prabhakar had played a leading role in introducing international cricketers to Gupta, including Brian Lara, the former West Indies captain; Alec Stewart, the former England captain; Dean Jones, the Australian batsman and Sri Lanka’s Arjuna Ranatunga and Arvinda de Silva. Prabhakar did not accept creating links on behalf of the Sri Lankan cricketers.

Prabhakar leveled these allegations at a crucial time. His accusations were made amidst widespread allegations of match fixing being made by Pakistani players and accusations by two Australian players — Mark Waugh and Shane Warne — that a former Pakistani captain, Salim Malik, had offered them a bribe to throw a test match. And the Qayyum report in Pakistan, which was published earlier that year, called for life bans on former Test players Salim Malik and Ata-ur-Rehman. (http://www.yehhaicricket.com/CBI/cbi_report/match_fixing_report.html)

Reacting fast, following a judicial probe, Malik was banned for life and Wasim Akram was fined. The inquiry even alleged that Waugh and Shane had taken money from Indian bookmakers. The pair was fined after admitting they had given Indian bookmaker information on weather and the state of the wicket.

As four Indian cricketers and the physiotherapist were found guilty by the CBI on the basis of testimonies from bookmakers, Nayan Mongia who was also named was cleared.

With the conclusion of investigations, Tehelka converted its series on match fixing in Indian cricket to a well received 500- page book titled “Fallen Heroes- The Story that Shook the Nation”.

With the IPL, match fixing charges are emerging yet again. Indian media is at it again with the ferocity the subject deserves. (http://cricketworldcup2011livescore.blogspot.com/2011/03/india-vs-pakistan-match-fixtures.html) With that, the Indian cricket and sports authorities have been noticed yet again to pay due attention to the seamy side of cricket. Here in Sri Lanka, the cricket loving public is also paying keen attention to what Sri Lankan authorities would now do. Whether it would be a matter of brushing the charges under the carpet or taking that painful and arduous path that India took- to blow the lid off.

CBI report: http://www.yehhaicricket.com/CBI/cbi_report/match_fixing_report.html

BOX: Sports laws to be amended to ensure integrity in sports

Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage says that the country’s sports laws will soon be amended enabling the respective governing authorities to take stringent action against all types of breaches including match fixing.

Aluthgamage said that the existing laws might not have sufficient teeth to deal with all situations and that the new draft will certainly include a section on integrity among sports practitioners. He said an expert team would commence working on the draft soon.

“As for the current allegations, I have initiated an inquiry. The matter is being investigated by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). I don’t want the cricket authorities to investigate because the allegations made by former skipper Hashan Thilakatratne also refer to them. Thilakaratne has recorded one statement with the CID but not mentioned alleged violators of the sports laws. He will be summoned again to record a statement”, the minister said.

“I hear allegations, not just about cricket but also about other sports. We now want actual evidence, whistleblowers who will name the people and claims that are evidence-based. I am willing to inquiry into the entire saga,” he said.

Dilrukshi Handunnetti is a Colombo-based investigative journalist and a lawyer. She contributes to a variety of publication on varied topics including governance, human rights and environment.


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Fallen heroes in South Asian cricket

Sri Lankan players celebrate during the test series against Pakistan in 2009   As Sri Lanka continues to grapple with match fixing controversies, ...