Hamza Tariq, a 28-year old wicketkeeper, is currently the only Canada player contracted in the CPL, having been part of Trinbago Knight Riders for three seasons. He has played 93 times for Canada, but at the start of 2011 World Cup he was a 20-year-old reserve just six matches into his senior team career when he was targeted in a corrupt approach by three men allegedly tied to illegal bookmakers. Here is his story, as told to Peter Della Penna.
I was probably the last player at the 2011 World Cup who would have expected to be approached by someone attempting to involve me in corrupt activity. I was only 20, had just played at the ICC U-19 World Cup a year earlier, and was not well established in the Canada team. I never thought someone would approach a Canada player, and if they did then, in my own mind, I thought they would want to go after a star instead of a reserve player like me.
But it happened.
When I've told people that I was approached, the first thing they ask is, 'How much money did they offer you?' No one is really worried about the entire story, how you get into it, and how you get out of it. That's where a lot of players make mistakes. In my experience, one doesn't have to be offered money for there to be an attempt at corruption.
I was excited to be at the World Cup, only my third overseas tour with the men's team. We began in Bangladesh for warm-up matches before taking on Sri Lanka in Hambantota for our first match of the tournament. In both places, there was nothing unusual. When we went to Nagpur for our next match against Zimbabwe, that was the first time I was introduced to a cricketer named 'Raghav'.
In November and December 2010, Canada had played 10 matches in India during a preparation tour. Several of the players of Pakistani origin, myself included, had missed the tour because of trouble securing visas. Raghav, who was from Nagpur, had played for one of the opposition sides during these matches and made friends with many of our team-mates.
During the World Cup, we had seven days of downtime in Nagpur before the Zimbabwe match. One night Raghav met me and two of my team-mates at the hotel bar. He offered us drinks - I don't drink - then invited us out to a club afterwards, which I also declined. But I remember him saying to us, 'All the drinks are on me. You guys are guests. We'll go out to another place and everything will be taken care of.' He looked like a normal guy, friendly and treating us with a lot of respect. He was a cricketer and so were we, so there was nothing out of the ordinary about our chats.
We lost our next two matches, to Zimbabwe in Nagpur and to Pakistan in Colombo, before returning to India for our fourth match against Kenya in Delhi. On March 6, the night before that match, one of my team-mates came to me and said, 'Hamza, Raghav is coming with his three uncles. They want to meet us and take us out for dinner so I've asked them to come to the room for a few drinks.'
I said sure. It was early in the evening and within half an hour they had arrived. They were very normal looking guys, in normal clothes - jeans, t-shirts and not too much jewellery. The first one's name was Sunil. I don't remember the second one's name, though he said he ran a cricket academy in Hyderabad, and the third one barely spoke a word and never gave us his name.
At one point, when I think back, they did ask a very specific question but I never looked at them with any suspicion. 'Are you in the playing XI tomorrow?', they asked, and I said, 'No, I'm in the reserves and only come in if [captain] Ashish [Bagai] gets injured because I'm a wicketkeeper as well.' That was it, their only question in the time while we were in the room.
Soon afterwards, we headed out for dinner at a Hakka restaurant, a combination of Indian and Chinese food. It was me, two team-mates and Raghav in one taxi to the restaurant, and we met the three uncles there.
I had no clue what any of the menu items were so the uncles called the waiter and said, 'Just bring everything you have. You're our guests right now but when we come to Canada, you make sure you treat us well.'
We spent about an hour and a half in the restaurant, chatting normally with this nice guy and his three uncles who we thought just wanted to take care of us while we were in their city. My two team-mates then went back to the hotel in a taxi with Raghav. But I wanted to stop off to have paan, a street food wrapped in betel leaf, so I got in a second taxi with the three uncles.
On this trip, they asked me if I knew what the playing XI would be, but not like a direct question. It was more like, 'Hey, so who do you think is playing?' Even then I was like, 'I'm not sure. I'm just a junior player in the team and I don't know these things.' One of the uncles put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Hey Hamza. You're young, you'll be back. We'll always be here for you.' I was just enjoying my paan and didn't really pay attention to what he said.
As soon as we got back to the hotel, they said, 'Go up to your room. We'll call you in a bit. We have something for you.' When I started walking into the hotel, I saw someone in a long trench-coat taking pictures. I didn't think anything of it, I thought it was a reporter or something, and just went into my room.
A good hour or so passed before they called. It was after 10.30pm. Sunil called me on my cell phone in my room and told me to come down to the lobby. When I got there, Sunil, the third uncle who didn't speak much, and a girl were waiting for me. She was probably around the same age as me, very young, 18-21, and very beautiful. They said, 'You can take this girl up to your room and after tomorrow, when you guys go to Mumbai [ahead of playing New Zealand on March 13], she's going to stay with you there for the entire week and we'll take care of everything.'
At that point, it was a red flag. I had only met them a few hours earlier, but they were already offering me a girl to take up to bed, and now the questions they had asked earlier in the taxi were slowly coming back to me. But even then, I didn't think they could be bookies or even bad people that I needed to stay away from. It was simply that they were offering me something and I had an option to take it or refuse, and I decided to refuse.
I said to Sunil, 'Hey, I'm not comfortable doing this. Thank you for the offer but I'll pass.' There was a lot of security in the hotel that night, as the Indian team had just arrived, and he said that if I was scared about being spotted, he knew a back staircase to my floor. He even offered to take us to a different hotel just down the street. I said, 'No, I'm okay. I really appreciate the offer but I just don't feel right doing it.'
They weren't aggressive, but they were definitely trying to find ways for me to accept her. But I told them, 'Look, if I want a girl, I will definitely contact you so don't worry.' That's when they backed away and said, 'Okay, no problem.' I was in the lobby for a good half-hour with the two uncles and the girl before they finally relented. We said goodbye and I went back up to my room.
About 10 minutes later, I came back to the lobby to talk to my family in Canada (the reception was better downstairs than in my room) and I was approached by someone else who I thought was sketchy. He was offering equipment and said, 'I'm part of a company. We want to support teams such as Canada. If you want to get some gear, cricket stuff, I'll hook you up.' For some reason, I thought he was the sketchier person.
I was still on the phone when I noticed the man in the trench-coat who had been taking photos earlier on. Wherever I went, he would follow and sit as close to me as possible. Not right next to me, but within view so he could see what I was doing. At one point, I went to the reception desk to ask about sightseeing; the man immediately followed and asked the receptionist what we had been talking about.
So I went to the man and said, 'Hey, I saw you taking pictures of me when I came back from dinner. May I know who you are?' He asked me who I was, and when I told him, he said he knew I played for Canada, and wondered why I was up so late. I told him I was just hanging out. That's when he told me he was with the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit. At that point I was scared. He was straightforward and told me, 'Go to bed'.
Shortly before noon the next morning, we went down to the lobby to catch the bus for our match against Kenya. The Anti-Corruption officer was waiting to speak to us all. He said there had been some emails and messages regarding our match and added, 'If there's anything that any player wants to speak about, it's best if you share it with us before the game starts rather than after the game.'
I sought him out and said, 'There was someone who approached me last night who was offering me equipment'. In my head, that was sketchier than the three uncles and the girl. A few other Canada players were approached by the guy offering equipment and they also reported it to the ACU officer. I remember him asking me, 'Was there anyone else?' I said no and he said okay, and that was it.
We were at the ground, about to begin our warm-ups, when it hit me that the uncles might be suspicious too. I waved over to Johnny Bujan, our assistant team manager, and asked if I could talk to the Anti-Corruption Unit guy. It was about an hour before the match was due to start. Five minutes later, Johnny brought him over and the first thing the ACU officer said was, 'I knew you would call me.'
I said to him, 'I met these three guys through someone. I don't think there is anything wrong or suspicious there. We met him through a friend named Raghav.' He asked me, 'Do you know where they're staying?' I said, 'Yeah, they said they're staying down the road at another one of the hotels.' But he said, 'No. They're staying at the same hotel as you guys are.' That's when I knew something was wrong.
I told the ACU officer everything: how I had met Raghav through my team-mates; how Raghav took our players out for drinks ahead of the Zimbabwe match; how Raghav introduced us to the three uncles; how the three uncles had asked me questions about the Kenya match, how they took us out to dinner and how they had offered me the girl. The ACU officer asked me for the names of the uncles. When I told him I didn't know the name of the third uncle who barely spoke, the ACU officer asked me to call them up.
I told him, 'Look, you can take my phone and call whoever you want. I don't want to get involved in this.' But he said, 'No, you've got to call because you've been in contact with them.' I said, 'If I call, they will know something is up because they know I'm not supposed to have my phone on me once I've got to the ground and during the game.' At this point the toss was not more than 10 minutes away. But he said, 'You're old enough. Figure something out.'
So we went outside the stadium and he gave me my phone. I called Sunil's phone number but it was Raghav who answered. I said, 'Raghav, can I talk to Sunil?' He asked why and I told him, 'I just want to talk to him about something.'
Raghav gave the phone to Sunil. I was supposed to get the phone number of the third uncle. I asked Sunil, 'Hey, the guy who brought the girl last night with you. Can you give me his number so I can try to get that girl again for tonight?' He said, 'Is that why you're calling me?' I said, 'Yeah'.
He said, 'Aren't you supposed to be at the game?' I said, 'I went to bed late last night so I couldn't get up on time and I've missed the bus. I'm actually in the lobby trying to get a taxi to get to the ground.' He said, 'Don't worry. If you want a girl, call me after the game.' I said, 'Okay'. Everything was on speaker and the ACU officer was listening.
Then Sunil asked, 'Do you know who is opening today?' That was the first time he had asked me a direct question. I told him, 'I'm not sure. I'm a junior player and I don't know such things in the team.'
He followed up with another straightforward question. 'Do you guys think you have a strong enough team to beat Kenya today? Should I put some money on it?' We were speaking in Hindi. His exact words in Hindi were, 'Paisa laga doon?' At that point I was like, 'I don't know. It's your money. You can take that decision yourself.' He said, 'Okay. Call me after the game.'
I hung up and we went back inside the ground, where Canada beat Kenya by five wickets for our first win of the tournament. The Anti-Corruption officer joined us for the ride back to the hotel and, as soon as we pulled up at the hotel gates but before we got off the bus, he asked me to call Sunil. It was around 11pm. Sunil answered and I said, 'Hey, I'm just calling you about the girl.' He said, 'So you've reached the hotel?' I said yes and he replied, 'I'll call you back in a bit.' It was a very short call, not even 30 seconds.
I remained in the lobby with most of the Canada players, celebrating our win. But an hour had passed since the call from the team bus and Sunil still hadn't called back. The ACU officer asked me to call him again. He picked up and said, 'I'm at the temple. I'll call you back.' I didn't even say anything before he hung up. The call lasted not even five seconds. I never heard from him again.
At that point, I was very frustrated with how the whole day had gone. I told the ACU officer, 'Listen, I've given you everything. I don't know anything. You can take my phone if you want but I just want to go enjoy our win with the team.' He told me to go ahead and enjoy the night and I went back to my team-mates in the bar. For rest of the World Cup, nothing unusual happened.
Thinking back to the whole experience, I never thought as a younger player in the team that I would be approached by such people. I used to think that bigger players in the team or bigger teams would get approaches from people like Sunil, Raghav and his uncles.
Associate games are definitely a target. Associates play a lot more cricket now, and a lot more cricket on TV. With that, the attraction and attention is there. A normal person would think that matches with bigger teams will be targeted but the reality is anything and everything that's on TV can potentially be targeted.
I'm more aware of my surroundings now when I'm on tour. One mistake then could have cost me my career. The moment you feel that something is wrong, report it right away. Never take that chance.