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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Cocaine in cricket’s new fix: Trapped by Indian bookies, says ex-Zimbabwe star Brendan Taylor

In a statement posted on Taylor’s Twitter handle on Monday, the recently retired 35-year-old wicketkeeper-batter said the ICC is about to impose a “multi-year ban” on him after he delayed reporting a corrupt approach by “an Indian businessman” to the governing body for four months.

Written by Devendra Pandey , Abhishek Purohit | Mumbai |
Updated: January 26, 2022 8:10:39 am
Indian fixers blackmailed me to spot fix: Brendan Taylor

Brendan Taylor, the former Zimbabwe captain, is set to become the second big name from his country after former fast bowler Heath Streak to have breached the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-Corruption Code in recent times.

In a statement posted on Taylor’s Twitter handle on Monday, the recently retired 35-year-old wicketkeeper-batter said the ICC is about to impose a “multi-year ban” on him after he delayed reporting a corrupt approach by “an Indian businessman” to the governing body for four months.

The Harare-born Taylor, who had a long playing career for Zimbabwe from 2004 to 2021, said that in October 2019, he had been requested by the businessman to come to India to discuss sponsorships and the potential launch of a T20 tournament in the African country. He said he was told he would be paid US$ 15,000 for the trip.

“The timing was such that we hadn’t been paid for 6 months by Zimbabwe cricket (the country’s cricket board) and it was questionable whether Zimbabwe would be able to continue playing in the international arena. So I made the journey,” Taylor stated.

At a celebratory dinner with the businessman and his colleagues, Taylor said he was offered cocaine, and he “foolishly took the bait”. The next morning, Taylor claimed he was blackmailed by the same group of men that if he did not spot-fix during international games for them, they would make their video of him taking cocaine public.

“I was cornered. And with 6 of these individuals in my hotel room, I was scared for my own safety. I’d fallen for it. I’d willingly walked into a situation that has changed my life forever,” he said.

Taylor added that he was given the promised US$ 15,000 but was also told that it was a “deposit” for spot-fixing and that an additional US$ 20,000 would be paid once he carried out the fix. “I took the money so I could get on a plane and leave India. I felt I had no choice at the time because saying no was clearly not an option. All I knew was I had to get out of there,” he said.

Taylor’s case is the latest illustrative example of what the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit has been tracking: players from smaller international teams, where official compensation isn’t usually lucrative and can be delayed, being increasingly targeted by bookies, mainly from India.

BCCI’s ACU chief, Shabbir Khandwawala, says the board is aware of Taylor’s situation, and that the “usual targets” are “such players from vulnerable countries who are not big enough or don’t have enough money”.

“But the good part is that players have started to report to ACU, and they inform if anyone has approached them. In India, we have sessions where the ACU informs and educates players on how bookies will try to lure them, and make them understand each and every point. As India is cricket’s hub, we are aware of the challenges going ahead. In the past few years, the BCCI has managed to register complaints across India and that has also helped us,” Khandwawala said.

According to Taylor, meanwhile, the stress triggered by the incident impacted his health so much that he was diagnosed with shingles — an infection that causes rash — and was prescribed amitriptyline, which is used to treat depression. He said he will be checking into a rehabilitation centre from Tuesday to deal with his substance abuse.

Taylor said he tried to explain to the ICC that he had delayed reporting the approach as he wanted to protect his family but the governing body refused to entertain his argument. The ICC is yet to issue an official comment on the incident.

Despite belatedly admitting to the approach, Taylor claimed he had never been involved in match-fixing. “I may be many things but I am not a cheat. My love for the beautiful game of cricket far outweighs and surpasses any threats which could be thrown my way,” he said.

Taylor played 34 Tests, 205 ODIs and 45 T20Is for Zimbabwe until his retirement in September 2021. He was also a Kolpak player in English domestic cricket for a couple of years in between, having quit playing for Zimbabwe after their last 2015 World Cup game against India. He returned from the UK to make his Zimbabwe comeback in late 2017.

In April 2021, another Zimbabwean star, Heath Streak, was banned for eight years for passing on information and introducing players to an Indian businessman, who was a known corruptor. Streak had allegedly received bitcoins valued at $70,000.

Streak, as per an ICC ACU investigation, had given inside information and failed to disclose potentially corrupt approaches related to the Zimbabwe team, the Indian Premier League, the Bangladesh Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the Afghanistan Premier League.

Streak had recently told The Cricket Monthly that the Zimbabwe coaching group had agreed to forfeit their pay during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, hoping that if the team qualified for the 2019 World Cup, the ICC prize money for qualification would enable payments to be made. But Zimbabwe could not qualify.

Invariably, there has been an Indian connection in most cases.

In 2018, the ICC’s then ACU chief Alex Marshall had warned that “it is mostly corrupt Indian bookies” who have been approaching players. In the same year, a Zimbabwe cricket official of Indian origin was banned for allegedly offering then captain Graeme Creamer money to fix a game.

Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan is the most high-profile player to have been banned in recent times — in October 2019 — for not reporting multiple approaches from an Indian businessman.

At least six players from the UAE have been banned following hearings for being in touch with bookies or accepting money but not disclosing an approach to the ICC. Three years ago, two Hong Kong players were banned for life and another received a five-year sanction for corruption.

Players have also been banned for corruption in T20 leagues, with wicketkeeper-batter Umar Akmal and opener Sharjeel Khan having been sanctioned previously by the Pakistan Cricket Board for violations in the PSL.

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