Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Match fixing: Playing the race card
Yesterday, two Pakistani cricketers, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, were found guilty by a London court of conspiracy to cheat, and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. Another cricketer, Mohammad Amir, had already pleaded guilty to the charges.
Discussing the issue last night on NDTV's Left, Right & Centre, the veteran commentator Kishore Bhimani played the race card. He said (starts at 16.18 of the discussion), "Both Mark Waugh and Shane Warne, two great cricketers, they were involved in fixing a match on the 9th of September 1994. This was the Singer Cup in Colombo, you don’t have to take my word for it, this is recorded... But they were mollycoddled so much that it wasn’t even told to the ICC. There seem to be different rules for the English and Australian players, and different rules for the continental players." Earlier in the programme he named Tim May along with Warne and Waugh as one of those guilty of match-fixing. Needless to say, he did not mention a single Indian cricketer among the guilty. Bhimani was media manager during the World Cup, and, like all Indian cricket commentators, knows the side on which his bread is buttered.
What he said about Warne and Waugh, though, is slanderously inaccurate. What the two did was deplorable, but could in no way be described as 'match-fixing'. They took money from a punter and in return for opinions about fairly innocuous stuff like pitch conditions. When asked to alter their play for money, however, both immediately refused. Pakistani cricketers, in contrast, were in the fixing game wholesale. Testimony heard by the Justice Qayyum is utterly damning of Salim Malik (the person accused most frequently in sworn statements of directly offering players money). Wasim Akram and Ejaz Ahmed come off pretty badly too. Inzamam, Saqlain, Waqar, and Mushtaq Ahmed appear involved in shady stuff at least some of the time. A finger is pointed at Saeed Anwar, too, but he appears to have struggled with temptation and gone over to the clean side (represented by Aamir Sohail, Rameez Raja, Rashid Latif and Aaquib Javed).
The Indian team was as embroiled in this jiggery-pokery as the Pakistanis. One of the prime accused in our own match-fixing scandal, Ajay Jadeja, is now contracted by, wait for it, NDTV. Wonder why they didn't ask him to comment on the London verdict?
Jadeja's interview with the CBI back when we had an inquiry of our own makes for interesting reading. Evidence was presented to him that he was in regular contact with bookmakers. He brushed it off, saying he met many people and couldn't remember them all. Some of these people, though, called him dozens, even hundreds of times during matches. The CBI had cellphone records to prove it. One bookie, Uttam Chand, called Jadeja ove 150 times in the course of a single Test Match in 1999. Here's Jadeja's explanation for his frequent chats with this guy: On being asked whether he knew Uttam Chand, a bookie/ punter of Chennai, he stated that he did not know him. On being confronted with Uttam Chand's cell phone printout, which disclosed very frequent telephonic contact between both of them just before or during cricket matches, he stated that he recognised Uttam Chand's cell phone number but knew him as 'Gupta'. He did not know how Uttam Chand got his telephone number. Jadeja stated that Uttam Chand used to ring him up often and tell him that if he did not talk to him, he would run into bad luck and because of superstition, he used to return his call. On being asked whether he knew that Uttam Chand was a bookie, he stated that he had an inkling to that effect due to the nature of conversation Uttam Chand used to have with him. On being asked why he did not discontinue his association with Uttam Chand after that, he said that he could not explain this.
So Jadeja's defence is that he took hundreds of calls from a bookie (and, on rare occasions, made calls to the man himself) out of fear he might face a run of bad luck if he didn't. If you believe him, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine, a Nigerian businessman with a Swiss bank account.