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October 1, 2000

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'Azharuddin fixed matches for bookie M K Gupta...'

The Central Bureau of Investigation report on match-fixing in cricket has named former Indian cricket skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, four other Indian Test players and a string of household names from cricketing nations around the world.

"Mohammad Azharuddin has fixed matches/performance for a bookie 'M.K. Gupta' alias 'M.K.' alias 'John' and big-time punters Ajay Gupta and Associates, with the help of Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia," the Central Bureau of Investigation said in its 162-page report.

In addition to Azharuddin, Jadeja and Mongia, the report also said that former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar was close to a number of bookmakers, and one-Test-wonder Ajay Sharma introduced three other players to Gupta.

The Indian players have previously denied fixing accusations.

The report, a copy of which was obtained a few hours ahead of its release, said Gupta either offered or paid money to nine non-Indian players, including former West Indies skipper Brian Lara and former England captain Alec Stewart.

Also named in the report were Australia's Mark Waugh and Dean Jones, South Africa's Hansie Cronje, Sri Lanka's Aravinda DeSilva and Arjuna Ranatunga, New Zealand's Martin Crowe and Pakistan's Salim Malik.

"The romanticism associated with the game is perhaps gone for ever," the CBI said in an emotional lament at the end of the report.

"Increasingly, in the playing fields around the world, the music of a sweetly timed stroke is being replaced by the harsh cacophony of ringing cellphones."

The CBI said the crisis facing cricket today is far more sinister than the "bodyline" controversy of 1932-33, a reference to intimidating bowling by England's pacemen against Australian batting great Don Bradman and his teammates that nearly led to a diplomatic row between Britain and Australia.

"Cricket, as it is played at present, does not appear to be the same game played by Sir Don Bradman or Neville Cardus wrote about," said the report.

"Both inducements and threats to players are bound to increase in view of the big money involved in gambling on cricket and the entry of the underworld," it added. "Major corrective steps need to be taken to put cricket back on rails."

The CBI investigation began in May, a month after the sacking of South African captain Cronje. He was banned for life by the South African cricket administration after he admitted supplying information to bookmakers.

In April, Delhi police named Cronje and three other South African players in a case of "cheating fraud and criminal conspiracy" in connection with fixing matches during a one-day series in India in March.

BCCI castigated

"Both inducements and threats to players are bound to increase in view of the big money involved in gambling on cricket and the entry of the underworld," the report concluded.

"Major corrective steps need to be taken to put cricket back on rails."

The CBI also castigated the Board of Control for Cricket in India for failing to investigate allegations "which were bound to have been within their knowledge".

It said that although there was no concrete evidence to suggest the direct involvement of any BCCI members in match-fixing, "their resolute indifference does give rise to suspicion that there was more than meets the eye".

"It defies credulity to believe the apex body was oblivious to such rampant match-fixing and, therefore, did not find the need to investigate thoroughly the results of matches which are patently questionable," it said.

Indian newspapers lamented the shadow which has been cast on the country's favourite game by the match-fixing scandal.

"Fix the fixers. Don't let the tainted cricketers get away," The Indian Express said in an editorial.

"Those who have betrayed the nation's trust must be held more firmly and more openly accountable for their crime, they must not be allowed any hiding place behind the ill-defined law or other technicalities."

However, The Times of India said the CBI report was "toothless" and would not stand up to legal scrutiny because it could not establish that those named actually broke the law.

"And yet it is still a very important document," it said. "Primarily because, for the first time, it has officially been admitted...that cricket matches are routinely rigged and that there exists a significant player-bookie nexus in the country."

It said the CBI investigation had now made it mandatory for the country's cricket administrators to devise a stringent code of conduct for players, and the government should now consider regulating betting on all games of skill, including cricket.

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