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The dark side of cricket

The book gives a multilayered, previously undocumented account of what corruption looks like in India’s favourite sport.  

Published : Mar 02, 2023 15:41 IST

That Neeraj Kumar has written A Cop In Cricket about being “inside the world of the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit” promises much, particularly because he was Delhi’s Police Commissioner when the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) corruption scandal broke. Most of those promises may well emanate from our overactive imaginations, featuring bookies, the underworld, punters, and spot-fixing cricket stars crossing over to the dark side.

A Cop in Cricket: Inside the world of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit
By Neeraj Kumar
Juggernaut Books (2023)
Pages: 193
Price: Rs.599

The scandal featured cricketers S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila, and Ankit Chauhan and IPL personnel such as Gurunath Meiyappan, the self-defined team principal of Chennai Super Kings, and Raj Kundra, owner, Rajasthan Royals. Kumar led the media announcement of the overnight arrests of the three cricketers in Mumbai under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, which began a saga that in some ways came to its sorry conclusion last September.

The scandal put the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, which set up two committees to learn the BCCI’s methods and make recommendations for governance reform. This led to the restructuring of the BCCI’s administration and electoral college plus a rewriting of its constitution.

A Cop in Cricket is not a granular detailing of the 2013 corruption scandal per se or indeed a repository of the dirty secrets of the game’s rich and famous. The book revisits Kumar’s experiences as the head of the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit (ACU) from June 2015 to May 2018. During this period, control of the BCCI was taken from its elected officials under president Anurag Thakur (who had originally offered Kumar the job) and, in June 2017, handed over to a Committee of Administrators (CoA) headed by Vinod Rai, a former Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Rai had already gained nationwide fame for his anti-corruption push against the United Progressive Alliance government in its 2G and coal allocation scams in the run-up to the 2014 general election.

In his first two years as ACU chief, Kumar made many a discovery about what was afoot in Indian cricket and experienced some of old BCCI’s familiar omissions: he had no physical office space as such and then there was the general cold shoulder shown towards the office he held and a disregard for corruption and security in cricket. The advent of Rai and the CoA was expected to mark a change, but Kumar was then made to run round in circles to get a meeting with the CoA to explain the situation at hand. He writes: “… corruption was a non-issue for the BCCI so what if the chairman… was a self-proclaimed crusader against corruption”.

A protest in Ahmedabad against the cricket players the Delhi Police arrested on suspicion of spot-fixing in an IPL match, on May 16, 2013. 

A protest in Ahmedabad against the cricket players the Delhi Police arrested on suspicion of spot-fixing in an IPL match, on May 16, 2013.  | Photo Credit: AMIT DAVE

In a normal world, the lack of respect for or assistance to the head of an anti-corruption unit should raise at least high hell if not a stink; in the case of the BCCI, it was par for the course regardless of what was being brought to their attention. Interpersonal differences notwithstanding, Kumar says in clear terms that there is a need to redefine what is considered corruption in Indian cricket. “To think corruption means match- and spot-fixing alone is to not see the wood for the trees… fixing is in fact a minuscule percentage of the large-scale chicanery that cricket administrators indulge in.”

Perennial fraudsters

Kumar describes in detail the other deliberately ignored non-headline/narrative-grabbing corruption that is floating around nib bling away at the ankles of Indian cricket’s shiny blingy avatar. The perennial fraudsters pretending to be talent scouts, hoodwinking young cricketers and their families by holding fake selection trials for a price and promising academy places, player contracts, or “exposure tours” overseas. There are cricket coaches and academies claiming to work “on behalf” of this franchise or that who are part of what is a criminal network.

Illegal betting

Kumar says that the BCCI pays no attention (nor does it support its own anti-corruption or security unit in the matter) to whether these operations are done with or without the complicity of franchises, in either the IPL or the State T20s events that have sprung up, or its own State associations. The stream of corrupt T20 events acting as a front operation for illegal betting goes unchecked by local cricket bodies.

The names of Vijay Barhate, Sobers Joban, Dinesh Kumar, Kashish Gupta, Amin Pathan—which the ACU unearthed in cases described in the book—are hardly known, their crimes hardly publicised as a warning to Indian cricket. For that to happen, the BCCI would have to accept that below the bright lights and big numbers, and because of them, there is corruption inside its ecosystem that needs to be tackled with diligence.

Young cricketers, parents, coaches, and officials regularly approached the ACU to complain about attempts being made to extort and exploit them. Working with local police to nab and charge the culprits was just not possible, but Kumar shows how it has happened in several cases.

So far, the BCCI has chosen to ignore the corruption that exists inside its own superstructure and only responds by huffing and puffing when the police make big name arrests on their own. Every enquiry the ACU responded to “opened our eyes to a new facet of cricket mismanagement more sordid than the other”.

Like in Haryana’s Mahendragarh District Cricket Association whose secretary, the owner of a brick kiln, was “totally clueless about the game of cricket”. He outsourced operations to the owner of a ready-made garments shop who became “coach, selector and administrator all rolled into one”. He worked with three middlemen and, for a fee, let players from other districts pay for Mahendragarh, with the district’s own cricketers regularly being ignored. The shopkeeper’s sidekick asked for sexual favours from youngsters who wanted to play for the district.

Kumar names their names. He writes: “We had heard of similar complaints from different places… the state cricket associations themselves dens of corruption and mismanagement preside over district set ups where they appoint their own stooges.” The details of the Mahendragarh case were sent to the BCCI (CEO and CoA) so that it could question the Haryana Cricket Association. To date, there have been no updates in public about this case.

L’affaire Johri

Kumar forensically also slays CoA chief Rai’s “nation’s conscience-keeper” narrative. He says he was stymied by Rai’s contrarian decision-making (Rai’s version of good-cop-bad-cop gone solo?). There is enough detail in here about the management and operational capabilities of Rahul Johri, the BCCI’s first CEO, who was accused of sexually harassing a female colleague.

When Kumar testified before the “independent inquiry committee” looking into the allegations, he found the “mood” of the majority of its members “acerbic and belligerent”. Their conclusions were “foregone”, dystopic. The allegations against Johri were rejected forthwith, deemed “mischievous and fabricated”, and yet simultaneously he was instructed to undergo “gender sensitivity counselling”.

“Vinod Rai “is widely seen to have presided over a bizarre charade to protect an errant [BCCI] executive from serious allegations”.”

Rai’s conduct in l’affaire Johri, Kumar writes, “will continue to mystify most people who have faith in the country’s premier civil service, the IAS. The nation’s conscience-keeper is widely seen to have presided over a bizarre charade to protect an errant executive from serious allegations.”

I have some quibbles: no indexing in a book that contains details about an eventful phase in Indian cricket is just lazy. A Cop in Cricket is underserved by its cover with its neon-font title and filmi image such as one sees on the covers of airport-grab crime fiction or in a still from Sony’s popular cop show CID.

A Cop in Cricket is a multilayered, previously undocumented account of what corruption looks like in India’s favourite sport and how it is being ignored by the people who run it.

Sharda Ugra is an independent sports journalist based in Bengaluru.

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