Cricket is the new engineering or medicine. The significant monetary rewards that come with playing even first-class cricket have encouraged more and more parents to push their children towards the sport.
But this Mumbai story should sound a cautionary note to all parents of potential superstars. Uday Mukund Pandya operates in Azad Maidan, the nursery that has produced countless Mumbai and India cricketers. He claimed to be cricket coach for the Antonio D’ Souza High School. He is now looking at a police investigation for fraud.
Pandya’s modus operandi was simple. He approached students of schools that did not have established coaching programmes. Displaying certificates of varying authenticity, for example the “Association for Twenty20 Cricket of Mumbai” Pandya would collect Rs 5000 each from students as coaching fee, also promising them selection to a Mumbai team.
“Before the season for school tournaments, he would conduct selections for various school teams and after that, get only the rich students for private training at his academy, saying they would be selected to represent Mumbai,” Shaikh Saad, alias Papa, who looks after wickets at Azad Maidan.
“Usually schools make arrangements for tournaments. When we found out he was asking for money from parents separately, we got suspicious. We had to intervene when we heard he was claiming to be a selector for various Mumbai teams. And then he tried to bribe me,” said Saad.
Pandya incidentally, ran a similar scheme in the Mumbai suburb of Borivali but was driven out in 2007, after a police case was registered accusing him of illegally detaining and attempting to sodomise a 13-year-old boy on the pretext of taking him to a cricket tournament.
“I don’t know what criminal charges you are talking about,” said Pandya, when HT asked him about the 2007 episode. Pandya said he had been training kids from the Antonio D’ Souza High School for a month. “I know the school’s principal. He has not given me any letter but given me permission. We have a mutual understanding. They have appointed me for inter-school matches.”
However, vice-principal Ashok Joshi denied this. “We don’t know anybody by the name of Mr Pandya and he is not appointed by the school. We already have two sports teachers,” said Joshi, who confirmed that the school had received a number of complaints about Pandya from parents.
Parvez Chowdhary, a member of the MCA’s International Match Organising Committee and also Young Friends Cricket Club, which is close to Young Friends Union where Pandya had hired a net to run his academy, told HT he would take the matter up with the MCA.
Another MCA official conceded it would be difficult for a parent to see through Pandya’s scam. “All the certificates he produces would seem genuine to someone not involved in cricket,” he said. But now that this matter has been brought to the notice of the police and the MCA, time might be running out for Pandya.