There is no secret about why Gulam Bodi did what he did: no warp in his make-up or kink in his soul. He wasn’t settling a score, he didn’t feel politically aggrieved or have an axe to grind with selectors.
When asked whether he experienced any contrition for his role in attempting to fix domestic matches, he looks downcast. “It’s been a very big mistake in my life. The biggest mistake. Cricket is something I love and know. I was a first-class cricketer for 18 years. You can’t just kiss that goodbye.”
Bodi isn’t meant to be talking to the press. Cricket South Africa (CSA) threatened him with further sanction if he said anything during interviews to compromise a long-winded investigation, and a condition for him to speak to the Mail & Guardian was that the story be vetted by his lawyers.
After being banned from all cricket activities, including commentating and coaching, for 20 years (five of which are suspended), the last thing he wants to do is to court the association’s wrath. As a result, he tends to play every question with a grimly outstretched bat rather than making merry in the power play.
“I took a lot of flak in the media when this all started,” he says. “Then, when the other guys were named, in a way it was only a storm in a teacup. Looking back, I think my sanction was pretty harsh.”
Bodi is loath to name names and give details about what has emerged these past few months. He does say, however, that about this time last year he started meeting with two “Indian gentlemen” from Mumbai.
They discussed spot betting on the Ram Slam T20, a domestic tournament scheduled to take place in November and December.
These men, insisted Bodi, were not criminals. There was no money laundering dimension or organised crime involved, and he scoffed at suggestions of property or timeshare being offered in either Dubai or Mumbai.
The abortive match-fixing adventure seems like a long way away nowadays, because Bodi’s life has hit a brick wall. “My life has come to a standstill,” he says, before going on to detail how he makes a living.
“I’m basically buying and selling, wholesaling – cosmetics, groceries, used cars. I’ve got to try everything now because you only have cricket as back-up. I only have cricket and, when that went, there was basically nothing.”
Although Bodi wears a gold bracelet bought in the Caribbean with his name stencilled on it, there is little bling in his life. He lives in Azaadville on the West Rand, the town in which he grew up, and drives a Jetta. There is two-year-old Yusuf to take care of and his wife has a second child – due in May – on the way.
He is not bitter or sore, just perplexed. He claims that the person who blew the whistle on him entertained thoughts of fixing before turning away from the dark side.
When asked whether he is a religious man – Azaadville has a famous madressa and mosque – he says: “I try to be, but sometimes the devil just gets hold of you.”
The lingering impression of Bodi is one of hurt and bewilderment, perhaps a distant charm. He reminds you of those guys you were at school or in the army with: likeable in a roguish way but not the brightest, with a morality as elastic as a rubber band.
Here is a man who is trying to pick up the pieces of a life that will never quite be the same. His banning stipulates that he can’t even coach cricket, although there is hope that he will help CSA and the players’ association to warn others of the perils of spot-fixing and meeting groups of suspect gentlemen fairly regularly for coffee.
It is easy to forget that, once upon a time, Bodi was on the verge of what might have turned out to be a decent international career. At the beginning of the 2002 English season he was playing for Leyland (close to Preston) as their professional in the North Lancashire league.
“It was the first game of the season – freezing, freezing – and I was bowling. The guy hit it back at me and I tried to catch it with one hand. It shattered my pinkie.
“That set me back a lot because just after that, I was called up to go with the South African side to the West Indies.”
In a sense, Bodi’s cricket never recovered. He has unusually small hands with stubby fingers, but as he holds them up you can see that the pinkie on his left hand is crooked. It looks like the finger of a character out of Dickens – a Uriah Heep or Wilkins Micawber. He only has 80% movement in it, he says, and the injury forced him to refashion himself from a bowling all-rounder into a pinch-hitter and carefree slugger at the top of the order. The transition was made with a joke and a wink, but Bodi was never quite the same.
The Dickens analogy is not as far-fetched as it seems. There is something Dickensian about the sorry mess that is the match-fixing saga, the ineptitude of the protagonists, the fact that the whistle-blower is purportedly implicated in the very thing he later condemned. There is the dilatoriness of the authorities, the bloodlust of the media, and the spurious distinctions between spot-fixing and match-fixing. It’s a tragicomedy in every respect and we still don’t know how deep or far it went.
As for Bodi, he sits wide-eyed and remorseful amid the media storm, reduced to selling potatoes. It’s a lonely place to be when once you were once the centre of a match-fixing hurricane.