An Indian bookie in every cricket fix
While players face investigation and ban, the ones who get away lightly are the corruptors—Indian bookies who continue to multiply by conning the system in the absence of policing
What is common in corruption investigations against Brendon Taylor, Heath Streak and Shakib Al Hasan? All three former international cricket captains had corrupt approaches from Indian bookies posing as businessmen.
Former Zimbabwe captain Streak is serving an eight-year ban from cricket. Former Bangladesh skipper Shakib is back after serving a suspension for failing to report a corrupt approach. Former Zimbabwe captain Taylor, who made an emotional confession on social media on Monday, is being investigated by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
But the ones who get away lightly are the corruptors—Indian bookies who continue to multiply by conning the system in the absence of policing.
These are the more recent examples. Go back to the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal and the prosecution’s case was built on player-turned alleged bookie Jiju Janardhanan luring world cupper S Sreesanth to spot-fix in lieu of cash. The key accused in the Hansie Cronje scandal of 2000 was alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla, who after being extradited from London, was granted bail in May 2020.
“Usually, the corrupters are linked to the unregulated betting markets in India - nearly always,” Alex Marshall, GM of ICC’s Anti-corruption Unit (ACU), said last November. “Because they have the biggest volumes. And they're unregulated. So, you can't see—no one can see what's happening in that market.” Industry body FICCI pegged the market for underground or illegal sports betting at over Rs. 3,00,000 crore.
Take the case of Deepak Agarwal, a bookie who posed as a Delhi businessman and was found to have made corrupt approaches to Streak and Shakib. The ICC could ban him for two years from cricket for “obstructing or delaying an investigation carried out by the ACU” because he briefly owned a team in the T10 league in 2018 and thus came within the definition of being ‘a participant’ under its code.
“In any case, these bookies have no reputation to salvage,” said Ravi Savani, who was the head of BCCI ACU and GM at ICC ACU. “The only thing that can work as a deterrent is if they have to spend time behind bars. That can only happen if there is a law for match-fixing.”
COURT QUASHED KPL CASE
In the Karnataka Premier League fixing scandal, the state association had suspended four players, a coach and a franchise owner in 2019. The investigation was led by Bengaluru Police, who framed the charges. Last week, the Karnataka High Court quashed the criminal petition. “Match-fixing may indicate dishonesty, indiscipline and mental corruption of a player and for this purpose the BCCI is the authority to initiate disciplinary action. If the bye-laws of the BCCI provide for initiation of disciplinary action against a player, such an action is permitted but registration of an FIR on the ground that a crime punishable under section 420 IPC (law related to cheating) has been committed, is not permitted. Even if the entire charge sheet averments are taken to be true on their face value, they do not constitute an offence,” the court said in its order.
“The city police could go for a review petition,” said Shabir Hussein Khandwawala, head of BCCI’s ACU wing. “These are the challenges of the system within the current framework of law. What we look to do is work hard within the parameters of our code and take the help of local police to keep the game free of corruption.”
Another alleged international match-fixing kingpin from India, Ravinder Dandiwal, was arrested for holding a dubious and fake league in Noida in 2020. He is out on bail.
In Taylor’s case, an ACU officer says, the bookie who he accuses of luring him into the fix for $15,000 has made a case against the player for allegedly running away with US$ 40,000. It is unlikely the alleged bookie, if found guilty, will be booked under current legal provisions.
“If the market is regulated, you can run algorithms and identify anomalies that are happening in betting. When it’s unregulated, you can’t do it and the Indian betting market is enormous,” said Marshall. “It’s for the Indian government to decide what they want to do about it.”
The Mudgal report while investigating the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal had recommended that betting be legalised in India. The Lodha committee report on BCCI reforms then wanted fixing to be made a criminal offence. In 2016, the National Sports Ethics Commission Bill was introduced in parliament as a private member’s bill by MP, and now union sports minister, Anurag Thakur. The bill is yet to be tabled.