India hit for six as cricket icon is named in share-dealing scandal

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The Independent Online

India is in shock after the national cricketing icon Sunil Gavaskar was named in a police investigation into alleged share fraud. Mr Gavaskar is one of six company directors being investigated over the 1992 flotation of a shoe company on the Indian stock market.

India is in shock after the national cricketing icon Sunil Gavaskar was named in a police investigation into alleged share fraud. Mr Gavaskar is one of six company directors being investigated over the 1992 flotation of a shoe company on the Indian stock market.

Topline Shoes has allegedly failed to pay shareholders dividends and stopped filing company results in 2000, in effect disappearing. Police in the state of Gujarat are investigating the possibility that the company directors have defrauded shareholders of their investment.

Mr Gavaskar, a former opening batsman for India's cricket team, has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that he resigned from Topline Shoes years ago and was never involved in the day-to-day running of the company. One of the other men under investigation, the managing director H M G Murthy, has come forward to back Mr Gavaskar's version of events, saying that the cricketer resigned his directorship in 1993.

If Mr Gavaskar is exonerated it will be to the relief of millions of cricket fans. India's cricketing heroes enjoy extraordinary status and are even more instantly recognisable than a footballer in the UK. They appear in a huge proportion of television adverts in India and rake in large amounts of money in sponsorship deals. The most obvious comparison is David Beckham.

But in a country where fans have been known to commit suicide if the national side loses, the pressure Indian cricketers play under makes Mr Beckham's lot seem easy.

Mr Gavaskar retired from international cricket in 1987, but in his day he carried the hopes of a nation in much the same way that Sachin Tendulkar does today. Considered one of the greatest opening batsmen in Test history, Mr Gavaskar was the first player to score more than 10,000 Test runs and scored 34 Test centuries, more than anyone else including Sir Don Bradman.

He captained the Indian Test side and often had to carry the batting virtually single-handed. So revered is he in India that in 1994 he was made Sheriff of his native Bombay.

He fought against the Indian cricketing establishment to win better wages for players, and many consider it partly due to his efforts that Indian stars today earn spectacular sums.

Mr Gavaskar is arguing that he was only given a non-executive directorship of Topline Shoes because of the celebrity cachet he brought to the company. While many of the other directors under investigation have disappeared, Mr Gavaskar is behaving like a man with nothing to hide. He is in Sri Lanka as a commentator for the Asia Cup one-day competition.

The investigation is part of a crackdown by police after a number of fraud cases in which companies start up, sell shares and then vanish, along with the investors' money. Gujarat police are alleging that Mr Gavaskar and five other directors raised $1.5m (£800,000) in 1992 by selling shares in Topline.

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