Ehsan Mani is a soft-spoken man, but when he speaks out his mind he means business. Among his priorities as president of the International Cricket Council are rooting out corruption in the game and ensuring that the problem of drugs does not spread to it.
As a Pakistani, he is also concerned about the state of affairs in the Pakistan Cricket Board.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in Delhi on Monday, Mani affirmed that the ICC has a zero level of tolerance as far as corruption in the game is concerned. "I would appeal to sports lovers to come forward and give evidence if match-fixing is still going on anywhere," he said.
You have hit out at former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin for providing experts comments for a private television network. Why?
Because we in the International Cricket Council feel that any player who has been banned for life should have nothing to do with international cricket or cricket in any form. Mohammad Azharuddin has been banned for life by the Board of Control of Cricket in India for his alleged role in the match-fixing scandal and, hence, he should not have been allowed to go to the field. We have taken up this matter with the BCCI.
But he is doing the job as a journalist and your writ does not cover the media?
Yes, we are aware that the ICC has no control over media but someone has given him accreditation to cover the matches [in the Asia Cup].
What does the BCCI say?
We spoke to Jagmohan Dalmiya, president of the BCCI, and he told us that he has not given accreditation to Azhar to cover matches. We will find out from the Sri Lankan Board if they had done that.
Former India captain Kapil Dev says it is time that the BCCI and ICC sort out the matter and lift the ban on Azharuddin
That is precisely we, myself and Malcolm Speed, executive president of the ICC, are doing here. We are talking to the Indian Board to sort out the issue. The ICC wants this issue sorted out. I do not know what Kapil Dev has said to newsmen. It may be his point of view. As far as the ICC is concerned we have made our stand clear on this issue and we have nothing more to add to it.
Pakistani players Salim Malik, Wasim Akram and others were also accused of fixing matches but no action has been taken against them. Why?
Yes, we have had our share of problems as well. The allegations of match-fixing were levelled against players from various country. It was not limited to just Pakistan. Match-fixing involved India, Australia, South Africa and some other nations. What we firmly believe is that match-fixing was going on before the year 2000, before the Delhi police bust the scandal.
Would you say that match-fixing is not taking place at all?
I would not make such a comment. What I am saying is that we should not become complacent and relax. We are closely monitoring the matches. We have a good system in place of checks and balances, and it is something that we have to be constantly vigilant about.
There were allegations in Pakistan newspapers that the Pakistan team had thrown some of the matches during the recently-concluded Indo-Pak series?
Yes, I had read some of those reports and we inquired into it but nothing was found.
The current Pakistani team is not doing as well as the previous team. Why?
We have a young team in place now after a series of top players like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and others left. We have some exciting young batsmen and bowlers taking up the places of the old and experienced players who are no longer in the team. Look at their performance during the Indo-Pakistan series. India is one of the best teams in the world, where you have talented batsmen of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and bowlers like Irfan Pathan, Ashish Nehra, Anil Kumble, and yet our boys gave them a run for their money. I must say that the current Indian team is one of the greatest Indian teams ever. Pakistan still gave them a tough fight.
Financially, has the tour has done well for the Pakistan Cricket Board, because the PCB was on the verge of bankruptcy before the tour...
I do not like the tone of the question. The Pakistan Cricket Control Board did very well because of the Indian tour to Pakistan. I think you have been uncharitable in your comments a bit about our Board. I am sure when the Pakistani team visits India in the near future the Indian cricket board would also benefit and, maybe, become four times richer than what it is today.
How serious is the drug menace in the game?
I am happy that this isn't an issue in cricket at all for the time being. We are looking at introducing some checks and balances to prevent drug abuse amongst the cricketers. We are discussing with international drug abuse prevention agencies, the International Olympic committee, and getting their expert advice on the matter.
Was the Shane Warne incident an exception to the rule?
To our knowledge, yes. Before the 2003 World Cup all the teams were tested. I would give full marks to the Australian Cricket Board for dealing with the Shane Warne incident and taking prompt action against him by banning him from playing cricket for a certain period.