Cricket's darkest chapter, 2001

A game in shame

Mihir Bose

© Getty Images

Cricket corruption, like taxes and poverty, may always be with us. But after cricket's annus horribilis of 2000 we can, for the first time, understand how a combination of players' greed, dreadful impotence and infighting by cricket administrators, and a radical shift in cricketing power from England to the Indian subcontinent helped create cricket's darkest chapter.

Two incidents illustrate this, and both occurred in India. The first was in 1984, some months after India's unexpected victory in the 1983 World Cup. One evening a Delhi bank clerk, Mukesh Kumar Gupta, was walking near his home in the grimy bylanes of old Delhi when he saw some people betting small amounts on a cricket match. This, as he would later tell the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's top police investigators, caught his imagination. Having ascertained that the betters were neither well educated nor well informed about cricket, Gupta began to hone his cricket knowledge by listening to the BBC. And over the next decade he would travel the world, following cricket and meeting many of the world's top cricketers. Meeting and bribing.

Meanwhile, as Gupta was transforming himself from a lowly bank clerk to cricket's most notorious match-fixer, and enriching himself in the process, cricket was also being reinvented and enriched. By the mid-1990s, even the Ashes Tests, the bedrock of the international game for more than 100 years, had been - away from the insular focus of England - sidelined in favour of one-day internationals.

By 1996, and the heyday of Gupta the match-fixer, there had been an enormous spread of such matches, the greatest expansion in the history of the game, with series in "non-cricketing" venues such as Sharjah, Singapore and Toronto. Sharjah had started by staging benefit matches for Indian and Pakistani cricketers, who had no recourse to an English-style system. Toronto provided a North American haven for India versus Pakistan, not always possible in the subcontinent for political reasons, while Singapore, and similar tournaments, represented the commercial opportunities that limited-overs cricket provided to businessmen seeking to reach the emerging Indian middle-classes.

Companies such as Singer and Pepsi, American but with extensive interests in south Asia, saw the marketing advantages of being associated with subcontinental cricket, and sponsored many of these mini-series. Television companies, in particular Rupert Murdoch's Star, were also keen to reach this new economic group. It is estimated that every second person watching cricket in the world is an Indian, and their insatiable appetite for the one-day game since 1983 has created a market worth cultivating. As Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum pointed out in his inquiry into match-fixing, submitted to the Pakistan government in 1999, "with the massive influx of money and sheer increase in the number of matches played, cricket has become a business." It was a business, however, that was run like a private members' club.

Not surprisingly, the game's new economic power stimulated the ambitions of Asia's cricket administrators. Our second incident, in the spring of 1996, provided the spur. It happened in the foyer of Taj Bengal, the luxurious Calcutta hotel just opposite the city's zoo, and gathered there were the subcontinent's leading administrators. The World Cup, which was just about to start in the subcontinent, had been thrown into chaos by the refusal of the Australians, for security reasons, to play their group matches in Sri Lanka. The television and sponsorship deals that the Asians had made for the World Cup, which would eventually bring them a profit in excess of $US75 million, were in jeopardy, and the game's governing body, the International Cricket Council, seemed powerless to act. It was against this background that Ana Punchihewa, president of the Sri Lankan board, turned to Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Indian convenor of the World Cup organising committee, and said, "We should have an Asian as the next chairman of the International Cricket Council."

Dalmiya picked up the baton and ran his election campaign as if it was an American presidential race, energetically wooing the ICC Associate Members. But despite winning a simple majority in two ballots, he found the old, established members reluctant to accept him. A bitter power struggle, essentially brown versus white (and black), saw England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies ranged against the subcontinent. It was so vicious that the scars have never healed. The Asian countries resented the grudging acceptance of them by England and Australia; the old powers felt that the new kids on the block were not following the game's gentlemanly ways.

"There was, is, a power struggle in international cricket," one highly placed ICC source admitted, "and the Asian countries are resentful of England, the old colonial power, but then the subcontinent has not helped matters by being very defensive about match-fixing. We have known for years that match-fixing goes on, helped by the fact that betting is illegal and in the hands of criminals there. But in the past, whenever the matter has been raised, they have said we are cricket administrators, not cops. Then a clean-cut white South African, Hansie Cronje, was caught in the net, the game changed and everyone has had to come clean."

Ironically, it was a Delhi crime-branch detective, Ishwar Singh Redhu, who, on April 7, 2000, forced everyone to come clean. Asked to investigate complaints by Delhi businessmen of extortion with menace, he was listening to telephone taps on two suspects when Cronje's name - and the fixing of one-day games in the current series between India and South Africa - cropped up. Then Cronje himself was heard discussing the fixing of matches with a London-based Indian businessman called Sanjeev (also known as Sanjay) Chawla.

Before that moment, five and a half years after Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May had made allegations of match-fixing against the Pakistan captain, Salim Malik, there had been inquiries in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as media investigations led by the Indian magazine Outlook. But apart from the fines on Waugh and Warne for receiving $A6,000 and $A5,000 respectively from an Indian bookmaker in return for information, which the Australian board and ICC had covered up, nothing had been done. It would subsequently emerge that Justice Qayyum had recommended a life ban on Salim Malik, but his report was still to be published.

The immediate reactions to the Delhi police's charges of match-fixing and betting against Cronje and the team-mates he had mentioned to Chawla - Nicky Boje, Herschelle Gibbs, Pieter Strydom and Henry Williams - were of utter disbelief that a born-again Christian like Cronje could be involved. Cronje denied everything - "Absolute rubbish." Ali Bacher, managing director of South African cricket, backed him - "unquestionable integrity and honesty" - and the South Africans denounced the tactics of the Delhi police. In London, The Observer quoted a South African journalist as saying he had heard the tapes and it could not be Cronje as the voice had an Indian accent. It later turned out he had heard Indian actors reading transcripts released by the Delhi police. The tapes themselves had been sealed and placed under the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court. Four days after detective Redhu's initial announcement, the cricket world was rocked and shocked. Cronje made the first of many confessions, and the shadowy world of M. K. Gupta and his ilk was about to emerge in the public light. Within two months, all the rumours of match-fixing that had been circulating for years were given substance. The Pakistanis, who had been sitting on Justice Qayyum's report since the previous October, were finally obliged to release it. Qayyum accepted that Waugh, Warne and May had toldthe truth about Malik seeking to corrupt them. Another cricketer, Ata-ur-Rehman, was found guilty of perjury in relation to evidence about Wasim Akram and a life ban recommended. Fines were also recommended for these two, and for Wasim, Mushtaq Ahmed, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Akram Raza and Saeed Anwar. The judge found that the evidence of match-fixing against these others had not come up to the level required, but he concluded none the less that Wasim should never again captain Pakistan. The fines were because, within the terms of the inquiry, these players had either brought the name of the Pakistan team into disrepute or, by "partial amnesia" and withholding evidence, had not co-operated fully.

In June, two weeks after the Qayyum report was published, a South African judicial commission under retired judge Edwin King began to hear devastating evidence from South African players. The entire South African team had considered an offer to throw a one-day match in 1996 and, in yet another confession, Cronje admitted he could have taken as much as $US140,000 from Gupta and other bookmakers between 1996 and 2000. But he asked the world to believe that, while he had lied to the bookies about throwing matches, he was telling the truth in saying he had never tried to fix a match. At the beginning of November, the Indian government released the CBI's report of their investigation into match-fixing. By interviewing illegal bookmakers as well as players, this added a new dimension to the story. The result was that, for the first time, a cricketer, former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin, admitted to being involved in the fixing of one-day internationals. And drawing on the information from Gupta and other bookies, the CBI revealed how international cricketers had been lured and, in some instances, corrupted. What began as a scandal could be seen at last as a conspiracy. Match-fixing could no longer be shrugged off as an occasional isolated instance; there was now a history and a pattern of corruption.

Gupta's first cricket contact was Ajay Sharma, very much a bit-player in international cricket - one Test and 31 one-day internationals for India - but a useful conduit to other cricketers. They first met at a club tournament in Delhi in 1988 when Gupta, impressed by the way Sharma batted, gave him 2,000 rupees (£100 at the current rate of exchange) as a token of his appreciation. Gupta saw this as an investment for the future, and it was to prove a shrewd one. A fortnight later Sharma contacted him and soon the two men had formed a bond which, as the CBI report made clear, "was to prove beneficial to both". When Sharma toured New Zealand with India in 1990, Gupta claimed he provided him with information about the pitch, weather and the team which he used to make "a good amount of money". Sharma denies he provided any information, but he did later introduce Gupta to Manoj Prabhakar, who was keen to get a new car: "a Maruti Gypsy with wide tyres". On the 1990 tour of England, said Gupta, Prabhakar gave him information about the team and "underperformed" in one of the drawn Tests. Prabhakar got his Maruti Gypsy - he told the CBI he paid for it himself - and Gupta got to know yet more cricketers.

The picture Gupta painted for the CBI, which was often backed in testimony from Sharma, Prabhakar, Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and even Cronje, shows how frighteningly casual the whole thing was. Gupta goes to Prabhakar's Delhi home for dinner (Prabhakar denies this); Prabhakar rings Gus Logie, who refuses to help (Prabhakar confirms this). When the Sri Lankans tour India in 1990, Prabhakar introduces Gupta to Aravinda de Silva (Prabhakar denies this). He in turn, and over the phone, introduces Gupta to Martin Crowe, and they get on so well that when Gupta visits New Zealand in 1991 - Sri Lanka toured there from January to March - he lunches with Crowe and his wife, Simone, at their home. At a Hong Kong six-a-side tournament, Prabhakar introduces Gupta to Mark Waugh; Gupta flies to Colombo during some festival matches there and, so he claims, meets Dean Jones, Arjuna Ranatunga and Brian Lara. When the winners of the Indian and Pakistani Wills one-day tournaments play in Delhi, Prabhakar introduces him to Salim Malik, and when England tour India in 1993 he introduces him to Alec Stewart. Gupta and Prabhakar agree on this.

Gupta's success with these cricketers varies. During the 1994 Sri Lankan tour of India, he claims, Ranatunga and de Silva agreed to "underperform" - "[they] could manage it since they were the captain and vice-captain," he told the CBI - and he profited when Sri Lanka lost the First Test. For this, he says, he paid de Silva $US15,000. There was talk of fixing other Tests, but the odds were too low. Gupta claims he paid Crowe $US20,000 for information, but he refused to fix matches. Jones was offered $US40,000, he says, but while Jones promised to think about it, he did nothing. In Hong Kong, says Gupta, Mark Waugh was paid $US20,000 to provide information "whenever Australia played", but on another occasion, in Sharjah in 1994, he refused to help as did Salim Malik. Later that year, however, Gupta recalls making good money on Malik's information that Pakistan would lose to Australia in the Singer World Series in Sri Lanka, a match mentioned in both the CBI and Qayyum reports. When the West Indians toured India in 1994-95, Gupta says he paid Brian Lara $US40,000 to underperform in two one-day games. After the CBI report was released, de Silva and Ranatunga denied Gupta's allegations. Crowe said he thought he was dealing with a journalist and was duped. Waugh denied accepting Gupta's money and talked of taking legal action. So did Lara. The most robust denial came from Stewart. According to Gupta, Stewart was paid £5,000 for information but refused to fix matches for him. Stewart not only denied receiving any money but claimed he did not remember knowingly meeting Gupta.

It is possible that in the fevered atmosphere of subcontinental cricket Stewart may have met Gupta: for a long time he was identified only as M.K. Confusingly, he was also known as John, although he was not the John who in 1994 paid Waugh and Warne for information, knew Salim Malik and approached Cronje in 1995 with offers to fix the finals of the Mandela Trophy between South Africa and Pakistan. Not yet caught in the web, Cronje turned him down. But as he and Malik walked on to the field before the first final, the Pakistan captain asked him whether he had spoken to John. Cronje told the King Commission that he felt embarrassed and ashamed and merely nodded in response: he did not want to talk about it. South Africa won both games; as far as Qayyum was concerned, Pakistan lost them in controversial circumstances.

There was an open dispute within the team about the decision of the toss. Since the matches were day/night games and the lights in Johannesburg were not conducive to batting second, Rashid Latif the vice-captain had strongly recommended that if Malik won the toss Pakistan should bat first. Both times Malik won the toss and put the opposition in [and lost]. In cricketing terms the toss in a day/night game is crucial as it is easier to bat first in natural daylight than under the shadows of floodlights. Even Wisden notes that [in the first final] Malik made "the puzzling decision to field first". It was also puzzling why, having [fielded] first and lost in the first final, Malik repeated the mistake two days later in the second match as well.

However, whether he was M.K., John or just plain Gupta, there can be no doubt about his intense and close relationship with Azharuddin and Cronje. After Ajay Sharma had introduced Azharuddin to Gupta at the Taj Palace hotel in Delhi in 1995, the two had a relationship that lasted until 1997. During that period, says Gupta, Azhar's wife Sangeeta Bijlani was also involved. He claims he paid Azhar 90 lakh rupees (£150,000: a lakh equals 100,000 rupees) but, finding some of Azhar's predictions "proved incorrect", asked for his money back and was repaid 30 lakh rupees - in instalments from Azharuddin's locker at the Taj Palace.

It was Azhar's unreliability as a forecaster, Gupta told the CBI, that made him seek out Cronje late in 1996. Even so, that Indian season had begun well for him. With Sharma's help, he claims to have had the pitch at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla ground doctored for the one-off Test between India and Australia, which India won in three and a half days. He was told that the First Test against South Africa at Ahmedabad would not be a draw - India won and Gupta made money - and that India would lose the Second; again he made money. In Kanpur for the Third Test, he asked Azharuddin to introduce him to Cronje. The meeting took place on the evening of the third day, with South Africa facing defeat. Azhar introduced him as a diamond merchant, but Gupta quickly told Cronje that he was a match-fixer who wanted to be sure that South Africa would lose. He asked Cronje to obtain the players' co-operation. Cronje would later tell the King Commission, "I led him to believe I would. This seemed an easy way to make money, but I had no intention of doing anything." He accepted $US30,000 from Gupta, hid it in his kit bag and smuggled it out of India, into and out of South Africa, and finally to a bank account in England, so violating the foreign exchange laws of both India and South Africa.

That established the Cronje-Gupta relationship. Cronje says he lied to Gupta about match-fixing but took his money nevertheless. And during the last match of the Indian tour, the entire South African team debated whether to accept Gupta's bribe, variously said to be $US200,000 and $US250,000, to play badly in the one-day international at Mumbai, intended as a benefit match for Mohinder Amarnath. Pat Symcox told the King Commission, "Some guys including myself said it was a lot of money and we should look at it. Some guys were for it, some against." In the end the offer was rejected, but it remains the only known instance of a whole team discussing match-fixing. Cronje met Gupta at three o'clock on the morning of the match to tell him the fix was not on. Yet when India then went to South Africa for three back-to-back Tests and a one-day tournament, also involving Zimbabwe, the relationship developed. Cronje says he kept lying to Gupta about throwing matches but took his money. Gupta says that when Cronje, like Azharuddin, proved an unreliable forecaster, and he suffered huge losses, Cronje apologised and promised to make amends. Here we have a touch of comic opera. According to Gupta, Cronje had promised that, during the one-day tournament, South Africa would lose some matches against India. When they didn't, he told Gupta that India had played so badly and missed so many chances that he couldn't do anything about the result. Poor Gupta: he had invested in both camps and still couldn't get the result he wanted. Could it be that other players were in hock to other bookies seeking a different fix?

The age of Gupta the match-fixer ended in May 1998, and there is some evidence to suggest that the high tide of cricket match-fixing ended then, although Majid Khan, former chief executive of the Pakistan board, remains convinced that Pakistan's two World Cup losses to India and Bangladesh in 1999 were fixed. However, no player or bookie has come forward to provide any details, and the World Cup did not fall within the compass of Justice Qayyum's inquiry.

In fact, it is possible that the world at large would never have heard of Gupta had Cronje not decided he couldn't do without bookies. He would tell Judge King that his behaviour was like that of an alcoholic, who abstains only to return when he has one drink. The fateful "drink" was offered by a South African gambler, Marlon Aronstam. He contacted Cronje on his mobile phone on the fourth evening of the rain-ruined Fifth Test between England and South Africa at Centurion Park in January 2000; they agreed to meet at ten o'clock in Cronje's hotel room. Aronstam wanted Cronje to "make a game" of the Test by declaring and persuading England to agree to a double forfeiture, something not only unprecedented in Test history but also not sanctioned by the Laws.

Aronstam planned to back both sides at long odds. If Cronje agreed, Aronstam told the King Commission, he was going to give 200,000 rand to a charity of Cronje's choice. (Cronje remembered the figure as 500,000 rand.) He claimed that Cronje implied that the only way to make money from cricket was by fixing matches, and gave the impression that he would be prepared to throw a one-day international "once South Africa has qualified for a final". He also offered to throw the first one-day international against India in Kochi, when South Africa toured there after the triangular series between South Africa, England and Zimbabwe. Cronje would later try to qualify his offers, but it remains extraordinary that he had such a discussion with a man he had only just met. As a result, he "made a match" of the Centurion Test, and Aronstam gave him 53,000 rand plus a leather jacket for his wife, even though it had been too late to place his bets by the time the final day was set up. The money for charity never materialised. Cronje denied that the match was fixed. But by his own admission he was hooked again on bookmakers, and a fortnight later, when South Africa were in Durban to play Zimbabwe, he was introduced to Chawla. The intermediary was Hamid "Banjo" Cassim, a South African of Indian origin, who had befriended the South African players by giving them biltong (dried meat). When the Indians toured South Africa in 1996-97, he had provided them with biryani, and one of the sights of the Cape Town Test was "Banjo" hauling biryani up to the Indian dressing-room on a rope.

By the time Cronje left Chawla's room, he was clutching a mobile-phone box filled with perhaps as much as $US15,000. It was to prove a fatal relationship. Cronje felt so invincible he did not seem to care who knew about his match-fixing discussions with Chawla. In India he happily discussed the topic on a mobile phone given to him by Chawla. He asked Pieter Strydom to play badly in the First Test in Mumbai, but Strydom refused. Before the Second Test at Bangalore, he asked Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener - "in passing, jokingly" Klusener remembered - whether they were keen "to throw the game for money". Again, his suggestion was rejected. Then, on the morning of the final one-day match at Nagpur, he lured two non-white players, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams, by offering the former $US15,000 if he scored less than 20 runs and the latter a similar amount if his overs cost more than 50 runs. He had, it transpired, told Chawla he would need $US25,000 each for Gibbs and Williams, and later conceded he might have been "trying to cut something" for himself.

In the event, Gibbs scored 74 and Williams was injured in his second over, but Cronje, who had made the offer with a smile, just laughed it off - part of his strategy, perhaps, to convince his players that it could all be a huge practical joke. What Cronje did not know was that the mobile he had been given by Chawla was being tapped. Two weeks later, when the Delhi police held their press conference, releasing transcripts of taped conversations between Cronje and Chawla, the joke was on Cronje. It would lead to the South African board banning him from cricket for life, just as after the CBI Report the Indian board would issue life bans on Azharuddin and Sharma. Two other Indians, Jadeja and Prabhakar, received five-year bans; South Africans Gibbs and Williams got six-month suspensions.

Yet, in the end, the joke has been played on cricket's administrators. This became evident when in May the ICC, prompted by Lord MacLaurin, held an emergency session to discuss match-fixing. It was the first time in its seven years as an independent organisation that such a meeting had been held. In the weeks beforehand, the various boards manoeuvred to put themselves in the best possible light. Everyone put pressure on Pakistan to release the Qayyum Report, while in an interview with The Australian newspaper, Ali Bacher sought to turn the spotlight away from South Africa with allegations that two 1999 World Cup matches were "manipulated" and that an umpire had been paid to "ensure a certain result in a Test match in England". Questions were raised in the media about ICC president Dalmiya's own conduct during negotiations for television rights for the 1998 ICC Knockout tournament in Dhaka. This had brought the ICC £12 million, at the time the biggest deal it had transacted.

Just before Dalmiya opened the session, MacLaurin passed round a statement on ECB notepaper, which he asked all the ICC delegates to sign, declaring that they were honest men. Everyone duly complied, but it revealed the curious state of an organisation whose own senior members had to declare they were clean before they could consider corruption among the players. Friends of Dalmiya hinted darkly that this was some English plot. Yet the most persistent questions about the 1998 television deal - whereby Doordarshan, India's state television, had received the rights - were raised in India. Soon, another CBI inquiry would be set up to examine the deal, and also the links between Dalmiya and Mark Mascarenhas, whose media interests include a television company called World-Tel.

CBI officers visited Dalmiya's offices in Calcutta and there was also a raid by income tax officials on his office. The CBI's next report, when it emerges, may reveal the curious ways such television deals are done. Dalmiya, meanwhile, insisted he had done nothing wrong. The ICC, he said, did not lose out, and if Doordarshan paid over the odds that was their responsibility. As for the raids, he claimed they had nothing to do with cricket and were common to all business houses in India.

In a sense, Dalmiya's remarks sum up the problem and the immense cultural divide that the cricket corruption issue raises. In Pakistan, the cricket board is at the mercy of the government; in India, it is autonomous. But in both countries the game is played and administered against a background in which corruption, and police and tax inquiries into prominent persons, are part of life.

In the various countries around the world, the investigations into match-fixing reflect the fact that each country does its own thing. In India, Pakistan and South Africa, the investigations have been either judicial or led by the police but, in all three instances, reporting to the respective governments. In Australia and New Zealand, they are being handled by the cricket bodies and have no legal powers. A strong central cricket administration could have overcome this.

The ICC has taken tentative steps with the setting up of an investigation unit under former London Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Condon. But, as Sir Paul himself has admitted, he has no legal powers; if he discovers anything, it will be reported to the ICC. He can do nothing to administer justice, he can only react, and what co-ordination he can achieve is through persuasion. It is noteworthy that the very afternoon he held a press conference in London to publicise the work of his new unit, it was overshadowed by the release of the CBI Report. Sir Paul had to delay his press conference to deal with that.

Since its initial report, the CBI has begun looking into links between cricketers, bookmakers and the Indian underworld, and could discover more secrets. The King Commission wants to go back to the beginning of 1992, when South Africa re-emerged into international cricket. It has high hopes of unlocking more secrets, but others in South Africa would prefer to see a line drawn under the whole sorry business. This would be a mistake. The high tide of match-fixing in cricket may have ebbed, but the full story of what happened throughout the 1990s has not yet been told.

Mihir Bose is sports news correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.

© John Wisden & Co