By Shantanu Guha Ray
It happened more than 12 years ago during a balmy morning in downtown Johannesburg. I was inside a grocery-cum-sweetmeat store run by one of the world’s biggest punters, Cassim Hamid. 'Banjo', as his friends called him, agreed for his first television interview post the Kings Commission questioning him for his role in fixing matches along with the then South African skipper, Hansie Cronje.
Hamid was calm as a cucumber. On camera, he said he did nothing. Off the camera, he said he did. “Now prove it,” he laughed, even showing off the jerseys of some of the world’s top cricketers. He claimed they all were “with him”. And then he again asked: Can you prove it?
I could not.
Hamid promised to meet and talk and share interesting anecdotes about cricketers from all over the world, only if I switch off my recording instrument. He told me to meet the 'Mamus' of cricket: they were all over the world and had superb access to the cricketers and gathered information for the punters. Those who were bold enough would then approach the players directly with offers they could never refuse.
I kept my notes. I knew it would be great to chronicle his tale in a book on fixing. And it should be written the way he talked. Hamid — it seemed to me — did not care because he was confident no one would ever have any proof on him. In Fixed, my book on cricket's illegal cash, Hamid finds a lot of mention in a chapter on 'Mamus & Bhais', two very prevalent names in cricketing circles.
Spot-fixing in cricket is as routine as the groundsman laying the pitch, except it works in shadows, away from the glare of the 17 cameras that record the match.
In Dubai, I visited punters who showed me text conversations with some of the biggest names in the game. In Mumbai, a top hotelier told me how his most expensive suites were routinely booked by a set of people under the garb of an investor forum who decide who will take which match, who will fix which cricketer.
In Pakistan, 2004, Rahul Dravid walked off a media conference when asked if the series was fixed because the hosts were playing horrible cricket. During my days with the world’s top sports channel, I saw how cameramen routinely helped punters share information on the pitch and the toss, both pre-recorded. The earnings ranged from $2000-$5000, depending on the nature of the match.
I watched it from close, taking notes. I did not stop their earnings. I was not a cop. I knew even if I want to alert anyone, no one would care. I just wanted to compile it all, open up the eyes of those who still consider cricket a clean sport.
One thing was clear to me: No one wanted to talk, unless caught and brought to book by the cops and forced to confess before a judge or judicial magistrate. And no investigation was ever complete because of the failure to connect the last few dots.
Bob Woolmer’s death, howsoever mysterious it might have been, was not enough for the Pakistan Cricket Board to initiate a judicial inquiry. The then skipper Inzamam-ul Haq said the players have gone through enough trauma and would not like to go through another round of difficult interrogations. In short, he meant Pakistan have learnt their lessons.
And then a London daily busted another spot-fixing racket where three Pakistani players and an Asian agent had no option but to confess before a judge that they were part of a larger spot-fixing racket. Luckily, the Scotland Yard worked overtime and provided ample evidence.
In other parts of the world, especially India, the loopholes are large enough for the accused to walk free. And once that happens, those in the fixing game and their punters get bold. Like the ones I saw during the 2011 ODI World Cup in India where strange text messages did the rounds hours before the match, predicting in minute details what would be the outcome of the tie.
Such was the arrogance of the punters that they started offering detailed text messages during the India-Pakistan semi-final in Mohali, their messages sending shivers in the press box. Everyone asked a simple question: Is this match fixed? Newspapers wrote headlines. But the world’s richest cricket board did not budge an inch.
Now, fixing — I learnt — was a well-oiled industry, no one would clean the gravy trail. Time and again, the BCCI got ample evidence in forms of telephonic conversations and video tapes linking players with punters and bookies but no action was taken. I was told by the genial Bishan Bedi that how difficult was it for him and his friends to dig the dirt of DDCA.
The IPL saga was another eye opener, I accessed not just the Mudgal files, even its annexures where BCCI investigators meticulously wrote where bookies met, discussed their plans and executed it year after year.
But then, how come the cops kept their end of the rope loose, allowing the punters to get scot free? In a courtroom agreement, one such person argued with me that he had nothing to do with cricket, in another court he admitted being grilled for over three days by the cops.
I was told by the punters themselves that cricket could have been cleaned when the London-based Interpol urged the Dubai-based International Cricket Council (ICC) to spend a little over Rs 130 crore that was required to clean the game of its dirty underbelly. But that move never came to pass. That was the closest an investigation came to cricket or, for that matter, cricket came to investigation.
Now fixing is routine, like empty bottles lying near the boundary ropes. No one cares.
Shantanu Guha Ray is a journalist and the author of Fixed!: Cash and Corruption in Cricket (Harper Collins, Rs 198.)