The ICC’s anti-corruption unit is investigating the role of Indian bookies and betting cartels in the Ajman All Star T20 League. Investigators say that there is a link between the organisers of the Ajman league and the micro-leagues organised in Jaipur and Kota, which had come under the scanner of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) anti-corruption unit last year.
A list of ‘persons of interest’ has been shared with the ICC, according to Neeraj Kumar, the BCCI’s anti-corruption chief.
Videos of the Ajman league went viral a fortnight ago after batsmen were seen throwing their wickets away with needless run-outs or by getting stumped by not making an effort to get back to safety. “The ICC has contacted us with regard to an India connection and there are persons of interest. The list of people (on our radar) who organise such leagues, which are corrupted, has further swollen up after the Ajman league. The ICC is investigating the India angle. If they want our help to carry out certain investigations, they will let us know. In fact, my own sense is that in most of the leagues happening abroad the corruptors are from India,” Kumar told The Indian Express on Friday.
The manner of the dismissals during matches of the Ajman league is eerily similar to that of the leagues, which have been investigated in India.
Last July, over a dozen people were arrested in overnight raids in Jaipur for alleged spot-fixing and betting in the Rajputana Premier League. Investigators discovered that the third umpire was one of the pointmen to whom bookies relayed messages.
The third official, via a walkie-talkie, relayed instructions to the on-field umpires, who in turn commanded the players to do as they were told. Most of the teams comprised club-level cricketers and were put together by bookies and middlemen.
There were a few instances seen in the footage of the Rajputana League which drew a parallel with the Ajman league. With a team needing 10 runs off the last over, the bowler, in successive deliveries, splayed the ball so wide that it beat the ’keeper and went to the boundary in the Rajputana League. In another passage of play, a wicketkeeper has the ball in his hands with the batsman out of the crease but is waiting for instructions on whether or not he should effect the stumping.
“Something similar was happening in the Ajman league but it was much worse (as compared to Rajputana). Organisers of these micro-leagues have connections and there is a cartel of corruptors in India. We know the names and other particulars of most of them. Their basic idea is only to make a killing. Bookies are pulling all the strings and players are like puppets,” the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit’s chief said.
Bouncers intimidate players
Once a player is part of one of these leagues, it is not easy to stay clean. If players do not do the bidding of the organisers, then bouncers positioned near the boundary rope during the match will intimidate them saying ‘do this or we will fix you later’.
The investigators had embedded some players in various teams of the Rajputana League as informers, who relayed minute-to-minute details of how the alleged spot-fixing was being carried out. The corruption in micro-leagues had come to light during the Rajwada Premier League held in early 2017. According to investigating officers, organisers of these leagues make between Rs 2 crore to Rs 3 crore each for a tournament, which can run for less than a week. Some of those alleged to be connected to the bookie cartel go by assumed names such as Pintu Ponting and Jonty Dhiman.
“This is a new methodology bookies and fixers have come up with. They host a private T20 tournament, select a venue and arrange to have it telecast. Because if you telecast it, then the bookie community and betting community gets involved and everyone sitting in a drawing room can bet,” Kumar said. Since the Jaipur Police, following a tip-off from Kumar’s unit, busted the Rajputana tournament, a number of leagues, which have the same modus operandi, have either shut shop or have postponed their events. One such league was the Haryana Champions Trophy that was to be held in August. T20 cricket tournaments which were scheduled to be held in different parts of West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have also been cancelled. In the case of the Haryana Champions Trophy, Kumar had spoken to the organisers and warned them of possible arrests if the tournament was conducted.
“This year again, the Rajwada Premier League was to be held. We got a tip-off and we alerted the BCCI which sent out a circular that any registered player who participates in the tournament will be debarred. State cricket associations were also informed. Now we hear that the league is planned for August in Sri Lanka.”