In February 1995, one of Mumbai’s top police officers was investigating a murder case when his men brought in a suspect for interrogation. As soon as he saw the officer, the man broke down. “Sir, main bahut gareeb aadmi hoon. Mera murder se koi connection nahi hai. Main chotta aadmi hoon, sirf match-fixing karta hoon [I'm a very poor man. I don't have any connection with the murder. I only fix matches],” he said.
Till then, the officer hadn’t even heard of fixing. At the time, India were in New Zealand for the Centenary Cup tournament, along with South Africa and Australia. “Kal ka match fixed hai, sir [Tomorrow's match is fixed],” the man said. Once it was proved that he had nothing to do with the killing, he was allowed to leave. Over the years, while business has flourished, he has continue to give the police information. Periodically, the cops arrest his men from various city suburbs. Each time, they go out on bail.
Over the 15 years, the one-time suspect and officer have got to know each other pretty well. “In India, the law doesn’t allow you to record telephone conversations unless it is a matter of national security,” says the officer. “That was the very reason we couldn’t record his conversation with a player back in 1995. That is why, despite several tip-offs, we don’t have any solid proof.”
According to him, we have seen merely the tip of the iceberg in the decade since Hansie Cronje was busted by the Delhi Police. “They [Delhi police] were tapping someone else’s phone number when Cronje’s call was intercepted,” he says. “They got it by chance.”
Despite Cronje, and the life ban handed down to Mohammad Azharuddin, who played 99 Tests for India, the law has not changed in the slighest. The Public Gambling Act under Section (3) of the Indian Penal Code suggests a ‘Penalty for owning or keeping, or having charge of a gaming-house’. According to it, if the owner/occupier, or any other person having the use or charge, care or management of any house, opens, keeps or uses the same as a ‘common gaming-house’ and knowingly or willfully permits the same to be occupied, used or kept by any other person as a ‘common gaming-house’, they shall be liable to a fine not exceeding two-hundred rupees, or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months, as defined in the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
“Two hundred rupees fine or three months imprisonment?” sneers the officer. “Had I recorded that telephone conversation between the bookie and players, I would’ve been more seriously punished by the law than the two parties involved.”
I first became aware of how deep-rooted the betting networks were a few months before Cronje’s dramatic fall from grace. I had just started my first job in cricket, and India were playing Pakistan and Australia in a tri-series at the turn of the millenium. My paraplegic landlady spent most of her days watching television. On game days, she would often call me for a chat, ending the conversation with a casual question about which team would win.
When the tournament ended, with Australia beating Pakistan, I was summoned for Sunday lunch. Having received no such invite in the six months that I had lived there, I was more than surprised to find an elaborate spread waiting. After the obligatory small talk, she said: “I have to thank you, beta [son]. You got five out of six matches right. I made 70,000 Rupees [around A$3000 at the time].”
No matter who you ask, the fixing trail inevitably leads back to India, fertile ground as a result of betting being an illegal activity. Whether’s it’s London’s Oxford Street, Johannesburg, Karachi’s posh Clifton suburb, Borivli in Mumbai or the old market in Jaipur, you’ll find a bookie of Indian origin. Sanjeev Chawla, who runs a clothing boutique in Oxford Street, became well-known for his involvement in the Cronje case. In Johannesburg, the name most mentioned at the turn of the millennium was Hamid “Banjo” Cassim, closely linked to a few top Indian and South African players.
Karachi used to be a stronghold of the D Company, the organised crime syndicate headed by Dawood Ibrahim, once Mumbai’s most feared underworld figure. After his involvement in the Mumbai blasts of 1993 -257 were killed and more than a thousand injured – he has been one of India’s most wanted men. Having first shifted operations to the United Arab Emirates and then to Karachi, most fixing threads lead to him and the network he runs.
Dawood’s fascination with cricket was well-known long before he had to flee India. In the late ’80s, he was a fixture at matches in Sharjah. Several cricketers and quite a few of Bollywood’s A and B-list celebs could be glimpsed in his company. Five years ago, his daughter, Mahrukh, married Junaid Miandad, the son of Pakistan’s greatest-ever batsman. The wedding was hardly a secret, despite the fact that two years earlier, the US State Department had labelled him a “specially designated global terrorist” for alleged links with the Al-Qaeda.
In Australia, the name that most people remember when fixing comes up is Mukesh Gupta alias MK alias John, who tried to offer Shane Warne and Mark Waugh money for seemingly innocuous information. When Mazhar Majeed, the Pakistani player-agent, was implicated in the News of the World’s sting operation, he too hinted at links with Indian bookmakers.
At the heart of Delhi’s Connaught Place is a popular pub frequented by the young and trendy. It has a good menu, plays some eclectic music and also provides very good odds for cricket matches. Those in the know say that the joint never did better business than during the time when the Indian Cricket League (ICL) was played. Sponsored by the Zee network, which has its own sports channel, the ICL came into being a few months before the Indian Premier League transformed the Twenty20 world. A miffed Indian cricket board used its clout to cajole and bully the others into labelling it a “rebel” league and starved of legitimacy and prevented from playing at the game’s marquee venues, it soon withered away.
But in the time that it was in operation, it made the news for a lot of wrong reasons. Rumours of match-fixing were never far away, but when two players – Dinesh Mongia and Chris Cairns – were sacked in early 2009, the whispers grew ever louder. Covering one of the games played by the Chandigarh Lions, a reporter wrote: “It was a strange match. The Mumbai Champs ambled leisurely to 135 and Chandigarh threatened to throw away the game to Nathan Astle’s gentle medium-pace before the aggressive Sarabjit guided them home through the tense final overs. Even the experienced Dinesh Mongia lost the plot, lofting Astle straight to long-off. Elliott too joined the suicide party, holing out to deep point, leaving Chandigarh struggling at 54 for 4. Chris Cairns too was guilty of doing the same.”
When the reporter subsequently spoke to a player, he was told: “It was bizarre. We were shocked at a few decisions they (Chandigarh) were taking while setting the field. The point was removed, a second slip was added; there was a long leg but no cover. It seemed like neither team was interested in winning the game.”
Not long ago, a Pakistani newspaper reported how the ICL had stopped payments to two cricketers after suspected involvement in fixing. Speaking to the Times of India, a player said: “Not just those two players, the entire team was involved. The best-of-three final was a joke, it was all fixed.”
India’s gambling craze is fuelled by it being illegal. Except for the racetrack, any sort of betting on sport is banned. The self-styled custodians of culture consider it anathema to the Indian way of life. Anyone who’s seen millions of Rupees change hands during the Hindu festival of Diwali when games of Teen Pathi [similar to three-card brag] are the norm rather than an exception will tell you just how hypocritical that is.
Lately, the judiciary has begun to realise the futility of a ban. A trial court in Delhi recently suggested that betting in cricket and other sports should be legalised. In their view, unaccounted money generated through the illegal activity is being used to fund terror and drug trafficking. The court observed that making betting legal would also generate revenue, as with the lottery business. It could also stop widespread money-laundering.
An average of 118 million pounds was staked on each IPL game last season, according to a Times of India article published on April 28. According to their sources, the total turnover was $11 billion. The same report alleged that the final, played three days earlier, was fixed. The Mumbai Indians, the table-toppers and favourites, were beaten by the Chennai Super Kings. Bookies stopped taking bets on a Chennai win midway through the first innings. A police source told the paper: “If Rajesh Jaipur and his brother Rakesh are made to undergo the narco [analysis] test, then a huge betting racket in IPL matches and the role of the bigwigs will be exposed.”
Where does all this money come from? Post economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, enormous fortunes have been made in small-town India. Those who run small-scale businesses or own farms in the region around a city like Nagpur, for example, are worth millions. Betting for them is a way of passing the time. They may not prop up the bar in a pub, smoke or indulge in any off-fairway pursuits, but it’s not uncommon for two men to stand by the side of the highway and have a wager on what colour the next car will be.
That, though, is the harmless side of fixing. The sinister face of it was on view recently when the family of Zulqarnain Haider, the Pakistan wicketkeeper who abandoned a tour in Dubai and fled to London after being allegedly threatened by bookies, claimed that they too had been intimidated. “Zulqarnain’s wife got three calls today, two from an unknown number and one from a number in Greece, in which the caller, speaking in Urdu, threatened her of dire consequences if Zulqarnain said anything about anyone,” said Aqeel Haider, one of his brothers. According to Aqeel, the calls came soon after after Zulqarnain had updated his Facebook page with a message saying he would blow the whistle on ” those who have taken money”. “All these people who are saying negative things about me, they should wait for five more days, then I will show them my background and status,” he had written. “After five days I will show them their background and place, and also those who don’t take money and those who have taken money.”
If the story is true, and there’s no reason not to believe it, Zulqarnain and his family wouldn’t be the first to receive threats. When Malik Mohammad Qayyum, a Pakistani judge, was carrying out his inquiry into match-fixing between 1998 and 2000, he asked the Lahore police for details of a case against two bookies, Raja and Jojo, who had been caught after abducting Wasim Akram’s father.
In 2000, Akram spoke to The Daily Mirror about his ordeal. “My brother called to say my father had suffered a heart attack and the reason behind it, I believe, was that he had been kidnapped for a day. Those people who kidnapped him thought that, you know, a match was fixed even though someone else was captaining the side at the time. They held him captive for a day and they were hitting him all over for a day – and he is 65 years old.”
When Basit Ali and Rashif Latif testified before Qayyum, they spoke of how they had walked into Salim Malik’s room during a 1995 tour and seen him in the company of Muhammad Hanif Kodvavi, also known as Hanif Cadbury, Pakistan’s best-known bookie. Hia tale best illustrates just how ruthless the gambling syndicates can be.
It’s no coincidence that Dawood is part of that story too. Kodvavi fled to South Africa in the late ’90s after a dispute with Dawood over money lost in Sharjah matches. A sum of 800 million Rupees was mentioned. But the southern cape was hardly a safe haven. Haji Ibrahim Bholoo, once affiliated with the Pakistan People’s Party, had arrived there in the ’90s and quickly become involved in drug-running. He was also Dawood’s man there. Kodvavi was shot 67 times and his body then mutilated, according to a report in the Sunday Times (London). Bizarrely, police in Johannesburg denied any knowledge of the murder.
So, how long have the world’s cricket boards kept their heads buried in the sand? The trail goes back a long time. In 1993, a Mumbai-based enthusiast presented the Indian team with Rs 2.5 million in cash after they swept a three-Test series against England. Two months later, the man was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities [Prevention] Act (TADA).
In his testimony before the King Commission in 2000, Ali Bacher, the country’s cricket supremo, spoke of how none of the ICC’s member countries had objected when Sir Clyde Walcott, then president, and David Richards, the CEO, had decided to keep the Warne-Waugh affair under wraps. Bacher himself had been alerted to fixing as early as 1995, but his dismal defence was merely to state: “There’s a viewpoint in the ICC that it should have been brought to the attention of all the administrators at that time.”
During the World Cup of 1999, Majid Khan, the Pakistani legend, told Bacher that two of the the games had been fixed. Again, South African cricket’s main man kept mum, breaking his silence only when his blue-eyed boy was caught on tape in India.
One of those Bacher subsequently spoke about before the commission was Mr R, allegedly responsible for fixing the England-South Africa Test at Headingley in 1998 [where Allan Donald bowled that ferocious spell to Michael Atherton] and the India-Pakistan match at the 1999 World Cup. Indian police and bookies were pretty certain that Mr R was Ratan Mehta, who ran an upmarket restaurant in Delhi. According to the India Today magazine, Mehta spent the days before the game – played in the backdrop of the Kargil conflict between the two nations – making his arrangements. On the eve of the game, at a nightclub called China White, he announced to an associate that he knew the batting order and the scores at which wickets would fall.
With Dawood a marked man, the nerve-centre of operations has shifted from Mumbai in the past decade. A few months ago, a journalist I know went to visit a bookie in Jabalpur, a small town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The story he published offered some fascinating insight into how the trade flourishes.
The bookie, Ramesh Bhai, claimed to make 100 Billion Rupees a year. “You have to understand one thing, we are not underworld,” he said. “Yes what we do is illegal but tomorrow if you’re my client and you refuse to pay me, I’m not going to be coming after you with guns and knives. I’ll simply never deal with you again. But if you do that while dealing with Dawood’s men, you’re dead. Whether they reclaim their money from you or not.
“Similarly, it is not we who fix matches. Believe me when I say this: A bookmaker like me does not need to fix anything. I just run this business with 10-12 boys who just sit with two laptops and five phones and my work is done. Without any underhand dealing, after paying the police their per-match cut, after paying the boys and everybody else, I still take home easily around Rs 200,000 to 300,000 a day depending on the match. Then why do I need to fix anything?”
Mumbai and Delhi have a long history of cricket betting, but in recent times they have been overshadowed by Jaipur, Hyderabad and Nagpur. Rakesh and Rajesh, two brothers who run India’s biggest network out of Jaipur, simply follow the odds quoted by the likes of Betfair and Ladbrokes. In Nagpur, Rammu Agarwal is the top man, while Hyderabad has Murad Bhai, who has the dubious distinction of “looking after Australia”.
According to Ramesh Bhai, what the News of the World exposed wasn’t fixing at all. “It was the bookie trying to present his case by way of confirming on television that he could dictate their performance,” he said. “He was only trying to lure in a customer and tell him that we can make a particular cricketer do a particular thing. Of course no-balls are fixed and so are wides. My boys take bets on it. It’s big money. Money on a win or loss is different. Little things add colour.”
Corruption on the subcontinent is also aided by the fact that player agency is completely unregulated. The India board doesn’t recognise FICA, the international players’ association, and their attitude to agents is similarly blase. In India, most of the big names are on the books of talent-management companies, but not all of them have had their antecedents examined thoroughly. Across the border in Pakistan, the situation is chaotic, with players often latching on to an agent in whichever country they tour in a bid to maximise income. Mohammad Asif, for instance, had one agent in Salman Ahmed, but he also dealt with Majeed while in the UK.
In a recent interview with an Indian newspaper, Ahmed suggested that the rot extended to officials. “When the Pakistan team manager [Yawar Saeed] landed in London at the start of the tour, the first thing he did was order for a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to travel across town,” he said. “How much should that cost in Central London? A 1000 pounds? That’s the kind of money they spend in a day. Where’s that kind of money coming from?’’
My second tour as a correspondent took me to Sharjah in October 2000, a few months after Cronjegate had shaken a nation’s faith in the game. It was the last time that India would play in the emirate, with the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into fixing suggesting that off-shore venues represented a far greater risk. At one of several parties thrown by various sheikhs, the teams – Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe were the others – had arrived, smartly dressed in their blazers. I gravitated to a group of people I knew. Among them was an India international who had been playing for a couple of years. Within a minute or two, an “agent” had come and tapped him on the shoulder. Though there were at least four of us listening on, he told the player: “Come on, I’ve got two Russian girls up at the apartment.”
The player first went pale and then spluttered: “But I’m in my India colours. I can’t come out looking like this.” The response flattened us all. “Don’t worry,” said the agent. “I’ve got a change of clothes for you in the car.” They left five minutes later.
I don’t know if that player ever fixed matches, but I do know that everyone from the KGB downwards has used “honey traps” to make people malleable. With agents like that, see-no-evil-hear-no-evil administrators like Walcott and Bacher, and organised crime-syndicates forever lurking in the background, we can only wonder if what we see is sport or charade.
* This article first appeared in the January edition of Inside Sport in Australia.