An array of sources, from current players to former administrators, have spoken about the ongoing probe into cricket match-fixing and the background leading to the Gulam Bodi scandal. Some were willing to fill in the blank spaces left by the official story, but most wouldn’t go on record, citing fear for existing relationships, retaliation and violence from the underworld figures involved.
An active, Dubai-based Indian fixer with underworld links was in South Africa during the Ram Slam T20 cricket tournament last year, sources said this week.
Operating under the alias of Munaf, they said he was here for most of the six-week tournament, which started on November 1 and finished on December 12.
Munaf’s presence in South Africa suggests Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) claims earlier in the week that they had nabbed Gulam Bodi in the “planning phase” of his match-fixing endeavours should be treated with caution. At a press conference at SuperSport Park on Monday to announce Bodi’s 20-year banning, five years of which were suspended, CSA’s chief executive, Haroon Lorgat said “[we] had got him in the planning phase and that no fixes had been active”.
Munaf’s presence at the tournament tends to contradict this, given that he was unlikely to be in South Africa to bungee jump off Van Stadens River Bridge. Here was a tournament of 30 matches, 22 of which were televised locally and in India, featuring six franchises playing 10 matches each – fertile ground for fixing.
Thami Tsolekile, Bodi’s former teammate at the Lions, was implicated in the scandal in an article in the London-based Guardian last week, and sources in cricket claim more heads – some of them big ones – would roll. “There are players out there who’ve been a little bit more involved than listening to Gulam’s clumsy overtures over coffee,” said a cricket insider.
When asked what he was advising his client, Tsolekile’s agent declined to comment. “That’s a confidential matter between Thami and me,” he said.
Bodi, a former professional cricketer and occasional Protea player now out of contract, was unlikely to have either fixed or inappropriately influenced matches by himself. He would have needed help, muscle, runners and fixers, particularly as the Ram Slam schedule was compact and punishing.
In recent months he had apparently run up considerable debts as a result of his gambling habit.
With a succession of flashy cars and the latest bling, he presented himself at grounds in September and October offering timeshare or property investment opportunities in Mumbai.
Sometimes, insiders said, he would take former team-mates or opponents out for coffee or lunch. Over peri-peri chicken at Nando’s, Bodi floated his spicy proposals. Most said they laughed the offers off. Bodi is liked on the domestic cricket circuit, but this doesn’t mean that some don’t greet him with a discernible roll of the eyes.
A reason so many of Bodi’s overtures went unreported is that few took them seriously enough to do so.
Be this as it may, Louis Cole, the CSA anti-corruption investigator, has taken his brief over the past few months extremely seriously. Even those guilty of nothing more than failing to report Bodi’s overtures said they have had their bank accounts scrutinised and their cellphone records fine-combed. The interview process has been secretive and thorough.
One player, who received a sudden end-of-year windfall for being in the team that won the Ram Slam T20, said investigators started asking pointed questions. “I had to tell them our chief executive decided to give us a Christmas bonus, otherwise they would have thought it strange.”
CSA was undoubtedly aware that something fishy was going down in the first week of November, so their claims of forewarning players are true. They released a press statement in this regard on November 6, with the fifth match of the tournament being played that day between the Lions and the Titans in Potchefstroom.
With the South African Cricketers’ Association’s help, they also saw to it that an anti-corruption roadshow trawled through the country at the same time, warning not only professional but also semiprofessional players that skulduggery was likely to be a fix-ture of the summer.
This aside, CSA has been ruthless in this week’s pursuit of Bodi, suggesting it has the institutional will to slice into the many layers of the match-fixing pie.
Nonetheless, CSA’s claim that they caught him in the planning phase rings slightly hollow. Does someone becalmed in the “planning phase”, as Lorgat put it at Monday’s press conference, really merit such sanction? The punishment for the crime – if this is all the crime was – seems wildly disproportionate.
In cricketing terms, was it all a case of taking guard without following through?
As CSA and the cricket community batten down the hatches, only time will tell, but it seems unlikely that so much energy was spent in achieving so little.
India’s invisible culture of betting nets billions
India’s illegal betting industry is worth billions of dollars. With no form of gambling being legally sanctioned, the industry is widespread, self-regulated and almost impossible to combat.
This is why fixers have an easy time in India – they can place (or get runners to place) a widespread number of inconspicuous bets across a massive market, as though they were normal punters. In this way, they give themselves the best possible opportunity to recoup their fixing outlay. Then they simply disappear.
In India, winnings are usually claimed on the day after a bet is placed.
There are many forms of betting on cricket matches, including spot-betting and match-betting. But, according to authorities on the illegal Indian market in the United Kingdom, the betting on last year’s Ram Slam T20 was likely to have followed predictable patterns. Spot-betting – such as betting on the number of no-balls in an over – is easy to notice and therefore such bets are not offered by bookies. More likely, the betting on the tournament would have involved the score after the first six, eight or even 10 overs of a match. Despite being illegal, the market favours continuity and predictability, with the number of bets on offer remaining constant.