Veteran journalist Shantanu Guha Ray’s Fixed! Cash and Corruption in Cricket is a sweetly-timed stroke, to use a cricketing analogy, for it has arrived at a time when the BCCI, the behemoth of cricket administration in India, is under pressure from the Supreme Court to sweep the stables and clean up what once used to be called a gentleman’s game.
In the year 2000, the world of cricket was dealt a body blow and its seedy underbelly of corruption and match-fixing exposed. Players of repute, heroes to millions of adoring fans, were caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Sadly, such exposes have become routine, every few years a new scandal emerges to remind us just how deep the rot runs.
Guha Ray chronicles all the major incidents that have dented the image of the sport and those involved with it. He speaks to the players, the cricket administrators and those who linger in the shadows, the bookies, the middlemen, the agents and others associated with franchise owners.
The chapters in the book delve into the minutiae of unfortunate and suspicious incidents linked to cricket over the years like the deaths of Bob Woolmer and Hansie Cronje. India-born Woolmer was Pakistan’s coach during the 2007 World Cup, when he was found dead in his hotel room under mysterious circumstances after his team lost to the West Indies and then, inexplicably – to underdogs – Ireland.
In what appears to be straight out of a thriller, the investigation took a different turn although the initial evidence suggested foul play. To this day, no one knows how Woolmer died. Guha Ray’s retelling of the investigation is thrilling, even if it’s disturbing to read.
Ray also focuses on the spot-fixing incident in England mentioned earlier and relatively lesser-known episodes like the fixing in the Bangladesh Premier League, which resulted in a ban on Mohammed Ashraful, the former Bangladesh captain who was fondly known as “Dhaka Tendulkar” after he made a debut with a bang at the age of 17.
The author has interviewed Ashraful who gives us an insight into how cricketers get lured into the murky world of crime, eventually heading to a point of no return.
The whole IPL saga, including spot-fixing, Modi-gate, and the Shashi Tharoor controversy, gets in-depth coverage.
There’s also a chapter dedicated to Jagmohan Dalmiya who, as president of the BCCI in his last tenure, was mentally so incoherent that he didn’t know which IPL team Sachin Tendulkar was mentoring. The Justice RM Lodha committee rightly questioned the BCCI as to how it was functioning with a president who was so ill.
While Ray doesn’t hesitate to mention names in most cases, there is the odd reference where you have to read between the lines (and hope that you are reading correctly) – like the “finest cricketer of the 1980s and 1990s who was all set to become the skipper of the Indian team… who when called for questioning would sit with his legs on the table and demand chicken sandwiches and Darjeeling tea”.
The notable omission in the book is the Mohammad Azharuddin chronicle. The former Indian captain along with Ajay Sharma, Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar, was banned by the BCCI in 2000. That episode doesn’t find a mention.
It was the turning point in Indian cricket that lost many fans (this reviewer included), never mind if new ones have replaced them since. Azhar however does seem to have inspired a movie on his life, which could have been a cautionary tale but wasn’t.
This is perhaps, a sign why the seductive appeal of big money, glamour, bigger endorsements and never-ending temptations always prevails over our nobler instincts.
As for the future? The Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice RM Lodha committees appointed by the Supreme Court have offered a glimmer of hope. Will the powerful cabal of politicians, bookies and corrupt officials and pliable players be finally broken or will this moment pass, like so many times before in the past? One would dearly love to be hopeful but the author himself is cynical.
His journalistic mask slips and an anguished fan emerges when he concludes in his introduction, “I am almost convinced that the stables will never be cleaned. For too many have their fingers in the pie.” It’s a sad summation but true nevertheless.