|CURRENT ISSUE OCTOBER 7, 2002|
Hi Hansie." Exactly 30 months ago, those secretly intercepted words began cricket's most infamous conversation between a man yet to emerge from the obscurity of match-fixing and another who had the talent to turn a match on its head. Speaking over cell phones, Sanjiv Chawla and Hansie Cronje combined to cast a shadow of doubt over the game forever. The Hansie case is forgotten, but the spectre of match-fixing is back. So it appears from the way the International Cricket Council (ICC) and its Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) are going about their task in Sri Lanka. Somehow the ICC believes that corruption in cricket runs deep in the subcontinent; doesn't matter if the South Africans and English authorities refused to cooperate in the original match-fixing investigations (see box).
The crackdown in the Emerald Isles is unprecedented. The ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo-the biggest cricket tournament after the World Cup-has witnessed the most extensive and intensive security operation with all ACU members and regional security officers turning up. The chief of the ACU, Lord Paul Condon, a former commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, was scheduled to fly in late last week. ICC spokesman Brendan McClements told India Today, "Our brief is simple: to see that the players are safe and secure and there is no malpractice during the tournament."
One look at the entrance to the change rooms at the two venues for the Champions Trophy and it is clear that nothing has been left to chance. There is a line-up of mug shots on the photo board, belonging not to those whom the authorities want to keep out but to those who they want to let in. Lined up side by side are portraits of modern cricket's good and great-one day it could be Sachin Tendulkar with his teammates, on another Sanath Jayasuriya. The purpose of the mug shots is to let players point to their pictures and get past submachinegun-toting security men should they be stopped from entering their dressing room. Close-circuit cameras maintain surveillance on human traffic in and out of the room. Inside the change rooms, big, bold "No Mobile Phones" signs are prominently displayed.
Australian John Rhodes, ICC's security manager for the Champions Trophy and the regional security officer for Australia and New Zealand, had also scripted the security plan for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He says the photo boards and ACU contact numbers in the dressing-rooms "are going to be the norm for international cricket now". Rhodes and his colleagues aim to build what one ACU officer calls a "sterile" corridor between players and bookmakers like Chawla.
You see the security everywhere. The official team hotel, The Taj Samudra, uses four times its normal security staff to police the event and another 200 men from the Sri Lankan Government's ministerial security division are on stand-by round the clock. Theoretically speaking, even if Chawla wanted he would not be able to speak to any player; all phone calls to the cricketers are being screened.
The effort to sever cricket's dodgier connections is real. The ACU has started briefing sides in private on a regular basis. It is learnt that Lord Condon met the Indians on their tour of England this year and told them his unit was convinced there were still three current international players who were giving inside information to bookies.
Two matches in the Champions Trophy, both featuring Pakistan, have come up for ACU's scrutiny. The first, publicised on air by commentator and former England captain Tony Greig, against Sri Lanka was put under the cosh because of the run-out of Yousuf Youhana. The Pakistani was run out by the length of the pitch without scoring. Youhana was recently sent home from a one-day series in Kenya on disciplinary grounds and then rejoined the team for the Colombo tournament.
The other incident being looked into is the hit-wicket dismissal of Inzamam-ul-Haq in the tri-series in Morocco. In that match against South Africa, the Pakistanis needed runs at less than three an over with seven wickets in hand. Inzamam was in complete control until he hit a six over midwicket's head in the 42nd over off rookie spinner Justin Ontong and then-as the ball took a couple of seconds to fly over the fielder-lost his balance and trod on the stumps. Pakistan went on to lose the match.
The ACU has files on all international players with suspect credentials and the one on a Pakistani is reportedly said to be "four times" thicker than any other international cricketer's. ACU Chief Investigator Jeff Rees recently told an English newspaper that his unit had interviews and reports with players and officials on file that could make "your hair stand on end".
Another match under the scanner is rumoured to have raked in bets of $2 million (Rs 9.7 crore). One "exotic" bet, according to intelligence inputs, was that the highest scorer in the Holland innings when they played Pakistan in the Champions Trophy round robin would be the extras. It may be pure coincidence but the scoreboard did show that the extras conceded were 33; the next highest scorer was not-out batsman Roland Lefebvre with 32.
The stepped-up security checks and surveillance in Sri Lanka are a prelude to the big event-the cricket World Cup in South Africa next year. Now if only the ICC would do something about the original case.
-with Sayantan Chakravarty