Actor amid bookies and players
Bacher points finger at evil subcontinent
Mamata charts twin tracks for Congress
Sharif appeals against life term
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 12 
Actor Kishen Kumar today told reporters in the crowded conference room of a hospital that he knew both Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar, two Delhi-based cricketers. Both of them live in Delhi, though Jadeja has turned out for neighbouring Haryana.

Kumar � who had a 25-minute session with police interrogators this afternoon � had sent out word in the morning that he wished to field questions from the media. But, as he had done with the policemen minutes before, Kumar denied involvement in the match-fixing scandal that has taken away South African skipper Hansie Cronje�s job.

Kumar said he had hundreds of friends in Mumbai and Delhi, but pointed out that friendship did not necessarily mean his involvement in any form of malpractice his friends were embroiled in.

But asked if his friends included any Indian cricketer, he parried the question, saying that he had friends from all walks of life.

Then came the specific query: if he knew two Delhi-based cricketers, Jadeja and the prolific Ranji run-getter for Delhi, Ajay Sharma, who had played several one-dayers.

It was a stump-to-stump delivery which Kumar � who had so far successfully acted the part of a harried blood pressure patient hounded by the police and the media � could no more avoid. �Yes, I know Jadeja. I have met him several times in Delhi,� he said.

The question on Prabhakar followed soon. Kumar again pondered a few seconds, and then answered: �I know him too. I have met him at the gym which I visit during my stay in Delhi.�

The gym in question is one in a south Delhi hotel where the arrested bookie Rajesh Kalra and the absconding Sanjeev Chawla used to meet their buddies, including Kumar, and a few other cricketers they knew.

It was a little past 4 pm when Kumar, fussed over by doctors at the Kailash hospital in Noida, was escorted into the crowded conference room in a wheel-chair to the table where microphones had piled up since early afternoon. Kumar began by saying that Sanjeev Chawla was a friend from �bachpan� when he used to reside in Jangpura where Chawla�s family still owns a house.

�I know him for 20 years. We are still good friends. In the meantime, I had moved over to Mumbai but we keep in touch. I arrange his hotel stay in Mumbai, provide him with a car. Whenever I go over to London, he puts me up at a hotel and provides me with transport,� Kumar said.

As for Kalra, Kumar said he knew him for three to four years. �He stays in Greater Kailash-II. I have a lot of friends in the neighbourhood. That is how we became good friends. We often met. He came over to my house in Delhi. I went over to his GK-II place,� he said, but added: �Friendship does not mean you get mixed up in other things.�

However, the actor was somewhat on the backfoot when he was asked if Kalra was as rich and an owner of the GK-II house when he first met him three-four years ago. Revising his earlier statement, Kumar said: �I know him for only two years. He owned a house even then.�

Initially, Kumar would not admit if such an �involvement forced upon him� by Kalra had hurt their friendship. But later, he modified his statement saying that he had �been pained�. But he stressed that he still believed that Chawla was a great friend and that he knew nothing about his involvement in such illegal deals.

Kumar narrated how the Delhi police had called him up last week in Mumbai asking him if he was receiving any extortion calls. They had asked him to come over to Delhi and he had followed the instructions of the crime branch, he said.

Kumar said he had fallen ill in Delhi on Friday. He claimed that he had a history of high blood pressure and had been admitted to the hospital, but could not explain the coincidence of his seeking admission on the same day Delhi police announced the match-fixing deal.    

April 12 
The Indian cricket establishment still prefers to stick its head into the sand of �no comments�, but the rest of the world is now looking determined to force it to look reality in the eye. Particularly so South Africa, bleeding under the hurt inflicted by Hansie Cronje�s confession that he had taken money from bookmakers.

That country�s cricket chief, Ali Bacher, yet to recover from the shock, did not couch his feelings in diplomatese today. �It�s almost a global issue this (match-fixing/gambling)... We will deal with it in South Africa, but I have no doubt that it�s been an issue that has taken place for a long period of time in the (Indian) subcontinent and it would appear that the authorities, for whatever reason, have not been able to cope with this particular problem,� Bacher told a radio station.

The Indian government and Delhi police are crowing � with a muffler over their mouths � about cutting the lid of a can of worms open, but neither they nor the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) has yet stood up to say clean-up at home is a priority.

Board bigwigs have gone incommunicado and Jagmohan Dalmiya, the International Cricket Council (ICC) president, declined to react to Bacher�s statement that the root of the problem lies in the subcontinent. �I will not react to an agency report (Reuters quoted Bacher from the radio interview). Even I have been misquoted often,� he said.

Bacher, however, has left no scope for doubt, coming back to the point over and over again. �The problem seems to arise, emerge in the subcontinent... that�s where the origin is by all accounts. That�s where the gambling takes place on cricket matches. It�s a huge industry...millions of dollars change hands on a single match,� he said.

The South African cricket board�s managing director was simply giving voice to what everyone on the cricket circuit knows, but no official ever admits.

The first known allegation of match-fixing goes back to Pakistan�s tour of India in 1979-80 and all subsequent ones have either originated or led back to the subcontinent.

Even in the current Cronje controversy, except for the South African players, the cast is almost all-Indian. South Africans were hanging their heads in shame today, but there was no indication yet in India that heads were about to roll for what Bacher gently calls �not being able to cope with the problem.�

The only sign of activity was scheduling of a meeting between Dalmiya and A.C. Muthiah, BCCI president, on Tuesday. Dalmiya would only admit that the fact the allegations have originated in India has prompted him to call the BCCI chief to ascertain what action is being contemplated.

It is quite clear that the subcontinental twins and the ICC will be the target of attack from all parts of the cricketing world.

Former Australian off-spinner Tim May, who now heads the cricketers� association there and who alleged match-fixing by Pakistan players when Australia went visiting in 1994, said the ICC had only itself to blame for the worsening crisis after years of neglect.

May said it was now time for an independent, worldwide inquiry.

In London, ICC chief executive David Richards warned of a crackdown on illegal activities by players.

�Gambling on cricket matches is a clear breach of the (ICC) code of conduct and if a person is found guilty, there are strong penalties in place,� he said.    

Calcutta, April 12 
Mamata Banerjee today urged the Congress high command to consider a tie-up with the BJP in Bengal to oust the CPM-led Left Front government, but added that the Congress was free to follow a separate policy at the national level.

�It is the political compulsion in West Bengal that should be taken into account. Those who want to fight the CPM should do so from a single platform,� she said.

Pointing out that such manoeuvres were �nothing new�, Mamata said: �There have been different political equations at different times in our country.�

The Trinamul Congress chief�s overture comes in the wake of 10, Janpath�s hardening stand against her proposed mahajot (grand alliance) of anti-Left forces in the state. Sonia Gandhi had said that a mahajot with the Trinamul Congress would only be possible if Mamata snapped ties with the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance.

�One can�t fight the battle against the CPM in this state single-handed,� Mamata said. �Mark my words, a one-to-one contest will bring about a two-third majority in our favour in the next Assembly polls.�

Reiterating the necessity of an anti-Left platform, Mamata said 23 years of Left rule has plunged the state into economic bankruptcy and the people wanted a change. �Only the mahajot can provide a clear-cut two-third majority,� she said.

Lauding today�s procession in Calcutta by Youth Congress activists in support of the alliance, Mamata called the Congress a �co-traveller� in the Trinamul�s crusade to topple the CPM.

The procession � organised by Youth Congress president Paresh Pal � carried huge pictures of state Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Mamata. Newly-elected Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal, Jayanta Bhattacharya, represented Trinamul in the march.

�We will complete the task we have taken up. The grand alliance will be complete. We want the Congress to stay with us while the CPM wants the Congress to stay with them,� she said.

Mamata stressed that she was also not averse to the idea of Chowdhury becoming chief minister if the alliance formed the next government. �Barkatda is a senior man and a veteran Congress politician. We want to keep him ahead of us and follow him as a leader,� she said.

Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said there had been several rounds of talks with state Congress leaders, including former PCC chief Somen Mitra, regarding a tie-up in the coming civic polls.

�It is a continuous process and more meetings will be held,� he added.    

Karachi, April 12 
Former premier Nawaz Sharif�s lawyer today filed an appeal before the Sindh high court against the life-term conviction awarded by an anti-terrorism court on April 6.

The court acquitted six other accused in the plane hijacking case. Sharif was convicted of life sentence on two counts, forfeiture of his entire property, a fine of $18,500 and a compensation of $37,000 to the plane passengers.

A stay order was filed requesting the fines not be collected and the property not seized until the appeal process is completed. The appeal requests the court to set aside the sentence as the judgment was �based on mere speculations, conjectures and surmises.�

n Full report on Page 3    

Temperature: Maximum: 33.4�C (-3) Minimum: 19.9�C (-5) RAINFALL: 16.6 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 58% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Slight rise in maximum temperature, which is likely to be around 35�C.. Sunset: 5.52 pm Sunrise: 5.21 am    

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