Bogus journalists and shady agents

There have long been rumours of cricket corruption in India and Pakistan. Qamar Ahmed examines the evidence
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Gambling has long cast its shadow over cricket on the sub-continent, where millions of dollars ride on international matches.

The main centre of operations is the Stock Exchange in Bombay. The whole system works by word of mouth, because, horse-racing apart, gambling is illegal in India and is completely outlawed in the Islamic state of Pakistan.

The system works through the agents of the bookmakers. With some masquerading as journalists, the agents are present in nearly every Test series, no matter where it is played or who is playing.

During a Test match or a one-day international, the press box sometimes receives dozens of calls a day from people in India and Pakistan inquiring about weather conditions, the state of play and the total number of runs that will be scored by a team in an innings.

Only last year in New Zealand, I received a call from Bombay while covering a match at Eden Park in Auckland. The caller asked me to convey a message to one of the Indian cricketers: "Please ignore whatever has been decided this morning." I asked the caller who he was, and he said he was a bookmaker.

One of India's leading bookmakers hanged himself immediately after South Africa's visit to India in 1992, while others have been imprisoned and had their offices seized.

It was therefore no surprise that when Pakistan suffered successive defeats by huge margins in Tests against South Africa and Zimbabwe recently, tongues started to wag.

Countrywide condemnation of the team was swiftly followed by allegations in the Pakistan press and from a former Test player that the squad was throwing matches for huge sums of money. The charges have been denied by both the manager of the team, Intikhab Alam, and the captain, Salim Malik.

It is not the first time such charges have been made. Last September, when Pakistan beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in Tests and 4-1 in the one-day series in Sri Lanka, and later started to lose matches in a one-day tournament, there were similar allegations, and the Federal Intelligency Agency in Pakistan was advised by the Sports Board to look into the matter. Nothing has yet come out of the investigation. So although the claims coming from Australia are a shock, they are not a big surprise.

No concrete evidence has been so far produced of players being bribed and no one has been charged. Intikhab said that the allegations against his team are totally baseless. "My team lost the Test matches against South Africa and Zimbabwe because they played poorly, and it has nothing to do with the players or the team accepting any kind of bribe or money from any bookmaker," he said.

Qamar Ahmed is an experienced observer of cricket on the sub-continent who has reported on more than 200 Tests around the world.