Home bookie last straw for Cronje
Jubilant police chief sorry for Hansie
Betting busters shun spotlight
Cricket’s loss, Atal’s gain
Extortion call probe led police to scandal
Uneasy silence in Indian camp
Superstars lose market sheen
Power shift after killing

 
 
HOME BOOKIE LAST STRAW FOR CRONJE 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, April 11 
Like everyone else, Delhi police are also confused by Hansie Cronje’s flip-flop.

South African cricket boss Ali Bacher had slightly toned down reports of Cronje’s admission of “dishonesty” to “dishonesty not in India” but in South Africa during the triangular series earlier this year where Zimbabwe and England were the other participating nations. Soon after that came Cronje’s denial that he had not taken any money ever.

Delhi police, which have learnt all about cricket recently, are aware of sharp differences between Bacher and Cronje. They also know that the two had almost come to blows over the inclusion of coloured cricketers in the team. The contradictory statements during the day also showed that something was seriously wrong in South African cricket.

Suddenly the credibility of the Delhi crime branch, which is yet to proved its charges, has shot up. The police believe that the information they had been passing on through the home ministry to the foreign ministry regarding the quality of scientific evidence they were putting together has done the trick.

They feel that the South African cricket administration had been able to convince Cronje — perhaps temporarily — on the need to own up as otherwise the consequences would be difficult to handle. The South African captain had been under constant pressure and followed by reporters over the past few days. The Indians were passing on vital information to his government about Cronje’s involvement.

Yesterday, the strength of Delhi police’s case against Cronje was passed on discreetly by Pawan Varma, joint secretary (Africas) in the ministry of external affairs, to the South African high commissioner in India Maite Nkoane-Mashabane. In his frequent meetings with the South African authorities, Indian high commissioner in Pretoria Harsh Bhasin had also been doing his bit. Bhasin had been briefed regularly from Delhi on the potency of the Delhi crime branch’s case and he had used his communication channels in Pretoria to convey the same to the authorities who mattered.

What probably frightened Cronje into submission earlier during the day was the leak last night by Delhi police that they had even been able to identify the South African captain’s bookie contact in his home country. They also knew that both he and Sanjeev Chawla, the bookie who was in touch with him all through the tests and the five one-dayers, had called up the same South African bookie from a Cochin hotel.

This may have been the last straw.    


 
 
JUBILANT POLICE CHIEF SORRY FOR HANSIE 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, April 11 
An ailing but jubilant police commissioner Ajay Sharma had to make it to his office this evening only to talk to the hundred odd reporters waiting on the lawns of the police headquarters here in Delhi.

While saying he felt “sorry for Hansie Cronje” as he was a cricket fan, Sharma said the captain’s admission meant that “we have been vindicated”.

The police chief had not been coming to office over the past few days as he was bedridden with a throat infection and accompanying fever. This afternoon, as the number of reporters loitering in the corridors of the police headquarters swelled, Delhi police realised the need for an official briefing. A car went over to Sharma’s residence to brief him on the developments and bring him over.

Joint commissioner of police, K.K. Paul was by his side as he stepped out to speak from a podium cluttered with microphones.

“Cronje’s own conscience must have forced him to make the admission. We have been carrying out a detailed investigation. Not just the tapes, we had other scientific evidence as well. You must have noticed we had waited for a long time before we went public. After all, our relations with a friendly foreign country were at stake. We had to put together our case with detailed evidence before addressing the press conference,” Sharma said.

He went on to explain how the police held on to the information they had for 20 days before calling the media. “We could have done that earlier,” the police chief added.

He did not explain what the additional evidence was, but indicated that the case Delhi police had built was a foolproof one.

The commissioner suddenly looked sad as he said: “We are sorry for Hansie. He is a very good cricketer. As a lover of cricket, I feel sorry for him. I am sorry that this had to happen.” It was not just the commissioner’s feeling: he was expressing the sentiments of a number of policemen on the job who had not believed for a long time even after latching on to the tapes that Cronje could be involved in this dirty game.

On the possibility of the involvement of Indian players, Sharma took the stand his juniors had been taking over the past several days. He said: “Nothing has come to light so far.” Asked what lessons the Indian players should take from this saga, Sharma said: “They must now understand.”

Insisting that Delhi police will provide all corroborative evidence in the court when the chargesheet is filed, he underlined that a lot of time and energy had gone in procuring the evidence and that the job was still on. He felt Cronje’s admission was “a vindication of our stand, of what we genuinely believed to be true”.’

But it was more than clear that the commissioner was at his diplomatic best, concealing the general delight that pervaded the crime branch this evening. Lt Governor Vijai Kapoor had specially instructed the police force not to go overboard and the police were following these instructions of playing down its glee both from him and from senior home ministry officials.

Sharma said Cronje’s admission did not mean that the case was over. Efforts would now be made to bust the entire betting network.

Other senior officials said they would try and expand the scope of the case. The names that were cropping up had links with the D-company who fixed matches in Sharjah and also in Pakistan.    


 
 
BETTING BUSTERS SHUN SPOTLIGHT 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, April 11 
The real heroes were absent. It was police commissioner Ajay Sharma who addressed the press conference along with his deputy K.K. Paul this evening. News had filtered through a couple of hours ago that Cronje had admitted being “dishonest”. The details of the “dishonesty” were not known.

But the real heroes, the men who stumbled upon this case about a month ago and pursuing it valiantly since then despite the odds had been asked to “maintain a low-profile” and not expose themselves “too much” to the media.

From this morning, anti-extortion cell inspector Ishwar Singh, who took up this case with the right earnest, his immediate superior and assistant commissioner of police Rishi Pal, inspector of the same cell who is now the principal investigator into the case, Surinder Sharma, were all missing.

They were not at the three-storeyed pink building hidden in a crowded block of the government residential quarters at Sector VIII of RK Puram in south Delhi. It is from here that the anti-extortion cell of the Delhi crime branch has been functioning since it was set up in 1987.

It was apparent that the home ministry, on request from the external affairs ministry and the government, had asked them to avoid “leaks” to the media. These leaks and the media’s insatiable appetite for Cronje and the cricket scandal stories were taking a toll on Indo-South African relations.

The men had decided to bury themselves for the day in a lonely corner of Paul’s room in the police headquarters this afternoon. It was here that they learnt of Cronje’s admission. There was no television set in the room and they were told bits and pieces of the news that was coming on the half-hourly bulletins.

Even their boss, who had encouraged them, crime branch deputy commissioner Pradeep Srivastava, had virtually locked himself up in his fourth floor room in the headquarters. When media attention was rivetted on the police commissioner’s press conference on the lawns, the anti-extortion cell police officers quietly escaped from Paul’s office and made their way upstairs to Srivastava’s room.

It is here that they met the press briefly in the evening once Srivastava decided to leave office. They met the few reporters who had stayed back till 7 pm hoping for a chance interview. Srivastava would not talk. Only half-an-hour back, Paul had told reporters that Srivastava had taken leave for the day and was now at his residence.

The three anti-extortion officers were smiling. But they would not talk. “There was no fresh development during the day,” they said in unison and walked out of the headquarters. There could be a party this evening at the pink building in RK Puram.

On the second floor of the same building, an incarcerated Rajesh Kalra knew nothing of what Cronje had said.    


 
 
CRICKET’S LOSS, ATAL’S GAIN 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, April 11 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s worries are over.

His Manali trip had been clouded a little by the possibility of future animosity between South Africa and India after the match-fixing scandal erupted. A negative fallout would have off-set India’s recent diplomatic gains following the successful visit of Bill Clinton. But Cronje’s pre-dawn call to his boss Ali Bacher has cleared the doubt that suddenly darkened the friendly relations between South Africa and India.

Both countries had been rebutting each other’s statements for several days. The Indian side, including foreign minister Jaswant Singh, was insisting that they had kept the South African authorities informed of the “corruption” involving South African players that Delhi police were attempting to unravel.

The South Africans said they had no idea that Cronje would be named by Delhi police as a match-fixer. Their high commissioner in India Maite Nkoane-Mashabane said yesterday that this was the first time she had recived official communication from Delhi.

The communication gap was impairing the bilateral relations which had improved from the time of the Kargil war through arms trade and agreements.

Vajpayee had kept himself informed in Manali through communication at a personal level with home minister L.K.Advani. Both had agreed that the media hype on the issue had become “uncontrollable” and the impact of Delhi police’s first news conference had surpassed the desired impact. Advani conveyed to Vajpayee how the police were confident of proving Cronje guilty.

The Indians were trying through their joint secretary (Africas) Pawan Varma in Delhi and also the Indian high commissioner in Pretoria Harsh Bhasin to convince South African that they would not have allowed Delhi police to hold a news conference unless they had concrete evidence in their hands.

The foreign ministry may heave a sigh of relief, but one worry will continue to nag the Prime Minister. Indian cricket generates almost 70 per cent of the revenue earned by all cricketing nations.

It is the most popular sport. It is now clear that with all this money being pumped into the network, the system has become corrupt. There is need for a thorough clean-up.    


 
 
EXTORTION CALL PROBE LED POLICE TO SCANDAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 11 
A businessman had approached the anti-extortion cell of the Delhi crime branch a couple of weeks ago, seeking help against persons who were calling him and demanding money. He wanted his telephone to be tapped and action taken against the callers.

It was while eavesdropping on his calls that the anti-extortion cell suddenly found three new callers wanting to discuss cricket and nothing else.

It intrigued the anti-extortion cell. Initially, they had not believed what they were hearing. They were discussing matches to be played between India and South Africa and how they desperately needed money to invest. They wanted financial support from the businessman.

It was then that they began their job of identifying the callers. Rajesh Kalra, the man they have arrested, was trapped.

And through Rajesh they were able to identify the other two callers, Sanjeev alias Sanjay Chawla and Kishen Kumar.

This is how the Delhi crime branch’s journey into the betting underworld began quite by accident.    


 
 
UNEASY SILENCE IN INDIAN CAMP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, April 11 
Robin Singh couldn’t have timed his splendid 100 against Mumbai more wrongly. As news of Cronje’s pre-dawn call to his boss Ali Bacher about “being dishonest about his activities in India”, filtered in, the country’s cricketing top brass went into a huddle here. Behind the “shock-and-surprise” reactions of Ajit Wadekar, national selector Chandu Borde and Mumbai selector Milind Rege, was the obvious fear. Who next?

As the names of some of the best and highest-paid Indian players, who could have been involved, did the rounds, Wadekar and Borde met behind closed doors for about half-an-hour. Mumbai Cricket Association secretary Ratnakar Shetty too joined in.

Borde said: “I am shocked and sad for the game. Hansie used to give 100 per cent for the game so I am even more shocked. Now whenever there are close finishes, the genuineness of the match will be under question.”

“The South African team always looked professional, clean and eager to win. Cricket will be the ultimate loser,” he added.

However, the trio was not willing to discuss the possibility of the involvement of Indian players. Wadekar said: “Indians are not capable of doing such things.”

On allegations levelled by Manoj Prabhakar that the captain and the manager of the Indian team for the Singer Cup in Colombo were involved in match-fixing, Wadekar, who was the manager then, said: “Justice Chandrachud has held a high-level inquiry and absolved everyone of the charges. What is the point of going into these charges? In any case the board will take up the matter.”

At the moment, even while defending Indian players the officials are keeping their fingers crossed. As Borde said: “I am just happy that Indian players are not involved for now.”

Former skipper Sachin Tendulkar, who could play in this Ranji semi-final as the dates were pushed back, refused to comment.

When he saw journalists approaching, he said “no comments” even before pleasantries were exchanged. After the match, while the other players came out to talk, Tendulkar went into the massage room, came out after half-an-hour and rushed straight to his car. Asked to comment on Cronje’s admissions he said: “Please leave me alone. I will not say a word about it.”

Other India players in this match — Ajit Agarkar, Robin Singh, Sameer Dighe and Sadagopan Ramesh — refused to comment.

It is learnt that two ED officials have arrived here and have identified a financier on Yari Road in Andheri who was linked to actor Kishen Kumar.    


 
 
SUPERSTARS LOSE MARKET SHEEN 
 
 
FROM NITHYA SUBRAMANIAM
 
New Delhi, April 11 
Advertising agencies and marketing companies will now think twice before signing on the mega cricket stars, thanks to the recent match-fixing controversy.

Senior advertising officials said this episode would put a question mark on the cricket stars’ future in the advertising world. In the short term at least, companies would be reviewing their strategies about using a cricketing icon.

“No company has extra money to spend on cricket heroes and they will ensure that the star they sign on is clean,” said Achal Paul of Lexicon Events. Aware of match-fixing, audiences will feel cheated if they see tainted cricketers in promotionals.

According to conservative industry estimates, master blaster Sachin Tendulkar attracts one of the largest endorsement fees of at least a few crores. Others like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Ajay Jadeja charge anything between Rs 50 and 75 lakh.

Following Hansie Cronje’s sacking today, the J. Hampstead suitings ads, featuring the South African captain and some other cricketers, were withdrawn. Shailendar Singh, joint managing director of Percept Advertising which handles the J. Hampstead business, said: “We have withdrawn the campaign featuring Hansie Cronje after his confession. We will now use our other spots featuring Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Geoff Boycott.”

He said J Hampstead was a media vehicle for the entire South African team and at a later stage ads could be created using the other cricketers. “The situation will be carefully followed before any further decision is taken. One should not forget that South Africa will be hosting the next World Cup,” Singh added.

Other Indian companies seem to have adopted a wait-n’-watch policy. As no Indian cricketer has been named in the row, firms have not rushed into dropping anybody. Pepsi and Coke, which have signed up a galaxy of Indian cricketers, did not comment.

Companies the world over have dropped stars who were involved in controversies. For example, Nike dropped basketball legend Magic Johnson when he was tested HIV positive and Martina Navratilova lost several contracts when her lesbian relationship became public.

While advertisers say that the attracting power of Indian cricketers is going down, there is no alternative to cricket. “Tennis or golf do not hold the country’s interest as much as cricket does,” said an advertising executive. There aren’t enough icons in these sports which the youth can identify with. Hence, for the time being, the stars of Bollywood would be much in demand, he added.

The cricket world is also facing the problem of declining ads on television during matches. “The hysteria is dying down as India has not been performing well in the last few months,” said Sanjay Garg, client services director, Enterprise Nexus. With cricket bids becoming steeper and ad rates for a 10-second spot increasing, companies are reluctant to advertise during cricket matches.    


 
 
POWER SHIFT AFTER KILLING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, April 11 
The murders that have rocked the twin towns of Chaibasa and Chakradharpur have heralded a new power equation in the region.

Former Congress MP Vijay Singh Soye’s killing yesterday appears to be aimed at wiping out his hegemony over the railway contractors and the forest mafia.

Soye’s death has sparked tension in the towns. Additional forces were rushed to West Singbhum apprehending law and order problem. Work came to a standstill in the district as shops and business establishments remained closed.

Police have arrested two persons, Manoj Singh and Ravi Singh, in connection with the murder and a 9mm pistol and a hand grenade were recovered from them. The police said the Singh brothers, who were nabbed near Karaikella, are residents of Ranchi. The other two assailants managed to escape.

“We have identified the two who managed to escape. The district borders have been sealed and combing operations are being conducted. After the remaining two are arrested, we’ll be able to ascertain the conspirators behind the murder,” said Chakradharpur deputy superintendent of police Yunus Kujur said.

There has not been any strong reaction from the Congress over Soye’s killing. Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee president Chandan Bagchi expressed his condolences to Soye’s family after his visit to the spot today. He has demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident. He accused “fascist forces in the region” for the murder.

Director general of police K.A. Jacob was cautious when he said “Soye’s murder may not have any political connection”.

Soye’s political rivals, the BJP and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), came together in a pre-poll pact. The JMM (Mardi) merged with the JMM (Soren) and Krishna Mardi emerged stronger. The JMM (S) later closed ranks with the BJP to join the NDA. Bagun Sumrai’s victory became another threat to Soye. “In Kolhan, two Godfathers of the same party cannot co-exist,” a West Singbhum Congress leader said.

Mardi’s rivalry with Soye resulted in frequent gangwars in Chaibasa and Chakradharpur. On one occasion, the exchange of fire between the two groups lasted for an hour. Later, Mardi found a friend in BJP MP from Chaibasa, Lakshman Gilua. Soye was the only hurdle for their saffronising the tribal area.

Investigations have kept open the possibility of politicians and contractors’ involvement in the killing. “Timber traders and railway contractors have their political leanings. Mafia and politics are interlinked here,” said an inspector of Chaibasa police station.

With Soye’s death, West Singbhum will now see new forces trying to grab the illegal timber trade and establish authority over the railway contractors. The saffron brigade will now have to put up with gangwars that are a hallmark of West Singbhum politics.    

 

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