ICC Anti-Corruption Unit chief Alex Marshall is on record saying Indian bookies are openly operating across the globe. ‘In most parts of the world it is mostly corrupt Indian bookies,’ Marshall said. Corruption in cricket has dominated headlines ever since the much-publicised match-fixing saga in the early 2000s.

 

New Delhi: Tell us, who is this mysterious person from Punjab, now stationed in Chennai?

Officials of the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are asking people as they probe serious spot-fixing charges against a host of people successful in inducing cricketers to underperform and facilitating spot-fixing in a number of T20 cricket leagues in India and abroad.

The person, claim ACU officials, is stationed in Chennai, has a beachfront home, owns a few hotels, hobnobs with some of the topmost film stars of Bollywood and southern states, and had started his career with textiles. The person, who started taking interest in cricket around 2003-4, has expanded his reach and now has a solid grip on the Tamil Nadu Premier Cricket League and Karnataka Premier Cricket League and has done a number of fixings already. The ACU is investigating if he was the same person deported from the West Indies after it was revealed that an Indian was allegedly fixing matches with his Pakistani friend in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). In CPL, the Indian bookie allegedly approached a Pakistani cricketer. Now, the CPL is largely owned by Indian stakeholders, with Shah Rukh Khan being the biggest, who owns the Trinbago Knight Riders. This year’s Caribbean Premier League was won by Barbados Tridents, who beat Guyana Amazon Warriors in the final.

What is both interesting and intriguing is that the particular team owner hails from South India and his exile was informed to the other owners of the franchise.

The Chennai-based person in question is rich, powerful.

“He works very closely with cricketers’ families, even relatives and takes care of them throughout the year. The players are ready to open up to him, spot-fix matches for him. He is very, very big,” a senior BCCI functionary told this reporter. The BCCI official said the matter is serious and has the BCCI, the world’s richest cricket board, tied up in knots. Officials of the board, which recently basked in the glory of hosting the first day and night test with the pink ball—en event which even turned Kolkata into a pink city—are justifiably worried because all fingers point toward three nations: India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where spot-fixing is rampant, so is betting.

Spot-fixing is gripping the world’s richest cricket board every now and then. Such is the crisis that organisers of the state T20 leagues have, claimed the BCCI official, openly started dealing with bookies and fixers. “Both the BCCI and ICC need to have an iron grip on the situation, else the subcontinent will be the game’s biggest hub for illegal cash,” said the official, speaking on condition that he should not be named.

The Dubai-based ICC is justifiably worried that the majority of the bookies in cricket are emerging from India. Bangladesh’s top player Shakib Al Hasan got banned for two years last month after he was in touch with a seasoned Indian bookie, Deepak Aggarwal.

The star all-rounder, who is also the country’s Test and T20 skipper, could not make it to India for the recently concluded test series. His being involved in fixing has now compounded problems of the Bangladesh Cricket Board. The BCB is now taking stringent measures to protect the Bangladesh Premier League (now renamed Bangabandhu BPL) from India bookies. Shakib told the ICC that he had been receiving offers from Indian bookies, especially Aggarwal. The cricketer told the BCB that he did not report to the ICC’s ACU. What is interesting is that Aggarwal was arrested in Raigarh in 2017 along with two of his supporters and put behind bars. After getting out of jail, Aggarwal is back in business and was reportedly instrumental in the suicide of Indian cricketer Vijay Kumar, who left a note before committing suicide that he had borrowed Rs 500,000 from an Indian bookie and was unable to return the cash. The cricketer had also blamed Aggarwal of threatening him into placing bets.

ICC ACU chief Alex Marshall is on record saying Indian bookies were openly operating across the globe. “In most parts of the world it is mostly corrupt Indian bookies,” Marshall said. Corruption in cricket has dominated headlines ever since the much-publicised match-fixing saga hit Indian cricket in the early 2000s. The ICC fears that dubious operators were shaping new ways to stay in business and instead of only focusing on ODI, T20 and test matches, they are now shifting their attention on franchise-based leagues to mint cash. The extradition from London of a top Indian bookie, Sanjay Chawla, is awaited by Indian investigators.

Alex Marshall.

The involvement of Indian bookies is making the game’s controlling body sit up and take notice. For the record, the ICC is worried about the way Indian bookies are openly operating across cricket playing nations. Consider the case of Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who accepted charges of spot-fixing after years of denial, in 2018. Kaneria named a bookie of Indian origin, Anu Bhat, who had asked him to concede 12 runs in the first over of an English county game in 2009. The scandal led to the imprisonment of Kaneria’s former Essex teammate, Mervyn Westfield. And then, Bangladesh skipper Mohammad Ashraful—banned for eight years for his involvement in the Bangladesh Premier League spot fixing scandal—was lured into fixing by an Indian bookie. Worse, Dhaka Gladiators’ CEO Gaurav Rawat, an Indian living in Myanmar, also won a team in Sri Lanka Premier League, both marred by allegations of corruption.

The Indian angle in fixing in the world of cricket is becoming a matter of serious concern.

Already, Sanyam Gulati of Haryana is under arrest on charges of influencing KPL player Bhavesh Gulecha to spot-fix some of the matches in the 2019 Karnataka Premier League. Investigations are on even as Gulati has claimed he was functioning as an informer of the ACU of BCCI and that he paid Gulecha Rs 75,000 only to collect evidence for ACU. Gulati even named BCCI manager for anti-corruption Anshuman Upadhyay as his friend and said Upadhyay was kept in the loop about approaches to KPL players. Upadhyay has rubbished the claim, so have the cops in Chennai. It is more or less clear that Gulati worked with players participating in the Caribbean Premier League, Karnataka Premier League and Tamil Nadu Premier League and allegedly fixed a large number of matches. The modus operandi of the bookies has shocked the cops. Preliminary investigations have revealed that bookies were interacting with agents of the players, journalists who were being hired by news channels as guest commentators, cameramen of broadcasting channels, team owners and eventually, cricketers themselves. Look at the statement of the Bengaluru Crime Branch after Sanyam’s arrest: “International bookie Sanyam has been arrested. He is a resident of Haryana. He was absconding in the West Indies. An LoC (Look Out Circular) was issued. He is arrested in the case of match-fixing by (celebrity drummer) Bhavesh Bafna.”

The Bengaluru Police has formed a Special Investigation Team Central Crime Branch (CCB) to probe the scandal. Seven people have been arrested already. A Look Out Circular (LOC) has been issued against the Bellary Tuskers team owner Arvind Venkatesh Reddy in connection with the case, while Belagavi Panthers owner Asfak Ali Thara had been arrested earlier. Two cricket players, C.M. Gautam and Abrar Kazi were also recently arrested in connection with the scandal.

These are serious charges, especially in a nation where the game is almost a religion. For the records, the Tamil Nadu league is played at the iconic Chepauk Stadium and features top players like R. Ashwin, Vijay Shankar, Murali Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and Washington Sundar, among others. The league was inaugurated by former Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni. Star India is the official broadcasters of former international cricketers like Matthew Hayden, Brett Lee, Scott Styris, Michael Clark, and David Hussey as commentators.

“Bookies are making deals which are very, very scary. They are actually taking control of these leagues across states, across nations by corrupting franchisee owners and running teams in their way to make windfall gain in betting. This is serious and can compromise such leagues,” said the BCCI official.

The other disturbing factor emerging out of this fixing business involving Indian bookies is disputes over payments. Bookies from India are rarely keeping their commitment and often disappear for long after making windfall gains. “The issue came to light when some Bollywood stars made some discreet calls to check out about lost payments. Spot fixing and illegal betting are sucking many into a dead hole. This needs to be checked, and eventually stopped,” said the official.

BCCI’s ACU chief Ajit Singh, a former cop from Rajasthan, is on top of the crisis and is aware that players are being approached by the bookies. Singh told a newspaper that a detailed investigation is on. But those tracking such cases as outsiders feel the ICC does not have the clout or the power to clean the game of such elements. Nor it has the financial prowess like the FIFA, which utilised the services of Scotland Yard to clean similar issues impacting global football.

“Internal investigations by ICC and BCCI will lead this nowhere,” said a former Indian cricket captain. He said BCCI should have taken a cue from the 2010 spot-fixing scandal in England involving four Pakistani players. It was the time when Scotland Yard probed the case and reached to some logical conclusions.

Till that happens with ICC and BCCI, spot-fixing will be tough to control and contain. The biggest problem is that there is no law in India against match or spot-fixing. This inability of the Board—claimed the former skipper—contributed to bookies convincing KPL, TNPL and other players that there was low-risk, easy money to be made.

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