The release of the recent biopic on Mohammad Azharuddin’s life has re-kindled interest in the devastating match-fixing scandal that unfolded at the turn of the new millennium. Sixteen years later, the ghosts of betting and match-fixing continue to haunt Indian cricket.
In 2000, the cricketing world was cast into dark clouds of ignominy as details surfaced about the involvement of then South African captain Hansie Cronje in a match-fixing controversy that would shake the game. Cronje’s confession dragged the net around three more South African players; Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje and Henry Williams.
Deposing before the King Commission Enquiry, Cronje also named Azharuddin for having introduced him to a bookie who offered him money to throw a Test match during their 1996 tour to India. Many believed that the image of cricket had been permanently tarnished and it would be impossible from then-on to watch the game without harbouring suspicion.
Journalists Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal, who founded Tehelka, at that time convinced Manoj Prabhakar to engage a veritable who’s who of Indian cricket in free flowing conversations around match-fixing, all while wearing secret recording equipment and a pinhole camera. Prabhakar played whistle-blower, bringing to light the extraordinary claim that Kapil Dev had offered him Rs. 25 lakhs to underperform during a match in Sri Lanka in 1994.
The Tehelka tapes gave us a sneak peek into the impunity enjoyed by the corrupt players and administrators who were complicit in tarnishing cricket in exchange of astronomical sums of money. The 90-minute documentary titled ‘Fallen Heroes’, available here in six parts, exposed the dark underbelly of greed and corruption that governs the game we love.
A large part of the first video focuses on, at the time, Mumbai commissioner of police Rakesh Maria who reveals shocking details of how rampant fixing is in the cricketing world. Revealing that players back then could earn up to Rs 1.25 crore (Rs. 12.5 million) in exchange of fixing matches, Maria also makes the shocking revelation that players themselves indulged in betting on the matches they played in.
Hinting at the fact that quite a lot of Indian players might well be involved in it, Maria specifically names Azhar, Prabhakar, Jadeja and Dev with their involvement being corroborated by police evidence.
Maria’s evaluation of Azhar is scathing, saying he has a criminal mind. The introductory video opens up a Pandora’s box of secrets as we gleam into the magnitude of corruption that drives the sport.
BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele and ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya discuss Dev’s involvement. Lele refers to a Test match against New Zealand when India refused to enforce the follow-on, chiefly on Dev’s insistence. Captain Sachin Tendulkar had been clearly unhappy with the decision though he refused to concede anything when Dev shrugged it off as the captain’s decision in a later press conference.
Ravi Shashtri also disclosed how, during the 1996 Titan Cup, Azharuddin had paid Rs. 6 lakh (Rs. 600,000) in cash on the spot to buy a deluxe watch. It also emerged later that there were attempts to fix the Titan Cup but things went against the bookies as Tendulkar almost single-handedly won the semi-final and the final.
Much before Ajay Sharma’s name was dragged into the murky waters of the match-fixing scandal, Shastri’s wife claimed that a couple of men who claimed to be Sharma’s cousins turned up at their residence to get a contract signed. When his wife, Ritu, refused the men visited Sunil Gavaskar’s parents next door with the same offer.
Kiran More refers to a match against Sri Lanka in 1993 when India needed 27 runs off 11 overs with 6 wickets in hand yet managed to lose under mysterious circumstances. More also mentions the fact that Sharma’s room was opposite to Azhar’s on that tour and adds how he was soon dropped despite his good performances.
As the camera turns to a Lucknow chit fund company owner who accepted cash deposits from Sharma and Azhar, it appears the rot is deeper than one could have imagined at the outset.
Sandeep Patil nonchalantly remarks that by the time he took over as coach, clandestine connections between players and bookmakers were well known. It was later claimed by Mumbai Cricket Association member Prakash Kelkar that Patil was taken out as he had protested against the use of mobile phones in the dressing room.
Kelkar’s statement, if considered in all earnestness, also points fingers at the complicity of some of the high-ranked BCCI officials who were privy to players’ connections with the bookies. Mohinder Amarnath confesses to the presence of bookies during his playing days with a shocking anecdote about the 1983 World Cup final.
Amrit Mathur, former Team India manager, also recalls a function where Dev was presented with a BMW. Mathur says their is a growth in the relationship between players and bookies, adding that the BCCI has lived in denial far too long.
Former BCCI President I.S. Bindra, the chief adversary of Dalmiya at that time, claims he has not been told of Dev’s offer to Prabhakar on the eve of the match. Bindra also claims that Dalmiya has not done anything to stem the rot even when he is in full knowledge of the problem’s magnitude.
We understand the depth of the corruption when the BCCI President A.C. Muthiah says he has no problem turning over the matter to a central investigating agency like the CBI, but is apprehensive of connections emerging with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.
Prabhakar had written way back in the 90s about a match in Sharjah when they were asked by the team management to continue despite fading light. Speaking before the Justice Chandrachud Commission, Ashok Mankad, team manager at that time, ridiculously states that the match had not taken place at all.
Sanjay Manjrekar, Prabhakar’s batting partner in Sharjah, expresses his disgust with Mankad’s statements, giving us a sneak peek into what had gone on behind the scenes. More, who had a fight with Mankad about letting the team play on, also corroborates events.
Nayan Mongia talks about the infamous ODI in 1994 against West Indies in Kanpur when he and Prabhakar had batted slowly not even trying to win when 63 runs were required off 54 balls. Ali Irani, the team physio, claims that the match was fixed and Ajit Wadekar was involved. Lele confesses that though Wadekar’s involvement was well known, the board decided to suspend Prabhakar and Mongia for a couple of matches.
Prabhakar had informed Wadekar of Kapil Dev’s infamous offer of Rs. 25 lakhs to throw the match against Pakistan. Though Wadekar had denied knowledge of the incident in front of the Justice Chandrachud Commission, he now confesses to it in a one-to-one conversation with Prabhakar.
Shastri, now a TV commentator, confesses that Prabhakar had informed him and Gavaskar about Dev’s offer back in 1994. Shastri also makes the sensational claim that Dev has been saved so far because of his connections with Ibrahim. In a conversation with Prabhakar, however, Gavaskar completely denies any knowledge of the incident.
Navjot Singh Sidhu says he is unwilling to publicly support Prabhkar as he was not in the room with him at that time. Sidhu adds that it would be difficult to convince people now in the absence of proof and he himself remains indebted to Kapil Dev for having given him an opportunity to represent the country.
How it ended
The Tehelka expose shook the cricketing world, with every major newspaper and tabloid running the news. After the CBI inquiry that resulted, it was disclosed that Prabhakar was also involved in match-fixing and betting during his playing days and even after his retirement.
It was found that he had several links with bookies, had passed on information, introduced players to a betting syndicate and had even deliberately underperformed in matches after taking money.
The BCCI slapped life bans on Azharuddin and Sharma, while Ajay Jadeja was banned for five years and Ali Irani and Prabhakar were barred from holding any official post in Indian cricket over the course of the same period.
Dev, when asked by Karan Thapar about the allegations in a BBC interview, broke down on national television and made an appeal to the emotion of his cricket-crazy nation. Dev was exonerated of all betting and match-fixing charges by the BCCI.
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