So declared Ashish Singhal, the current owner of the world’s most famous cricket ball, at a crucial moment in my 18-month investigation into its controversial sale for a staggering £26,400 by Christie’s in 2006.
The Six Sixes ball now has pride of place in Singhal’s office in Faridabad after he bought it via an online airport auction in November 2009 – almost three years to the day after Indian art impresario Neville Tuli had paid the world record price via his agent at the London auction.
When Tuli’s financial problems – which eventually led to the collapse of Osian’s Art Fund – meant he couldn’t pay the statutory import duty on the ball, Faridabad Forgings director Singhal acquired it, along with an antique bat, for 72,000 Indian rupees according to IGI officials.
During my investigation, Singhal singularly failed to follow his personal maxim and became increasingly economical with the truth. They say that actions speak louder than words; he frequently promised but consistently failed to deliver and seemed unwilling to face the facts – or even acknowledge them.
The truth is that Singhal’s most prized possession is not the real deal. It cannot be the right ball because it is the wrong make: it is a Duke rather than a Stuart Surridge.
How is that possible? How could the ball that Garry Sobers supposedly smashed around St Helen’s in Swansea for the historic Six Sixes on a late summer’s day in 1968 be sold for £26,400 when it was patently an imposter? That disturbing discrepancy – a Duke instead of a Surridge – just didn’t make sense and it launched Operation Howzat?, the subject of my latest book, Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery, which has just been published.
The seeds of my investigation were sown while I was writing Six of the Best, a 40th anniversary celebration of Sobers’ feat while he captained Nottinghamshire to a 166-run victory in a county championship match against Glamorgan. I knew the Duke had been consigned to Christie’s by Jose Miller, a former secretary of the Nottinghamshire Supporters’ Association. She’d received it from her predecessor, John Gough, who in turn had been given the ball by Sobers when he returned from St Helen’s to Trent Bridge in 1968.
Miller’s name cropped up in a phone conversation I had with Sobers’ then agent, Basharat Hassan, in March 2008. He’d arranged for his client to sign a certificate of provenance when Miller had wanted to sell the Duke to pay some medical bills two years earlier. Hassan made it clear to me that “Garry wouldn’t like it if you spoke to Jose about the ball.” Why? “Because she’s been ill recently and it would only upset her.”
Intrigue turned into suspicion when I read an Independent on Sunday article written three weeks after the sale which questioned the Duke’s authenticity because of its make. I later learned that the Christie’s lot notes had claimed Glamorgan were being supplied with Duke balls during the 1960s and the sold one was the last of three used in the over – the first two having been hit out of the ground and “allegedly returned to the umpires.”
Not so, according to the bowler, Malcolm Nash, who I rang in Kansas where he was working as a cricket coach. He was adamant: he’d bowled with only one ball throughout that over, and cited BBC Wales footage of the feat showing it being returned to him after every six except the last one.
Nash also confirmed that Glamorgan had used only Surridge balls supplied by the club’s scorer, Bill Edwards, through his sports shop near St Helen’s. Former England and Glamorgan all-rounder Peter Walker told me that Christie’s had ignored his pre-auction protestations.
I then had a strange conversation with Glamorgan’s scorer and archivist, Dr Andrew Hignell, who’d been invited to London by Christie’s before the auction. After revealing details of that meeting, he resolutely refused to let me include any of them in Six of the Best – apart from his being shown the ball and verifying the match details. His attitude mystified me, but I reluctantly went along with it.
When I read a 1968 Glamorgan members newsletter which confirmed that the actual Six Sixes ball had been made “at the firm of Stuart Surridge, the former Surrey captain,” I knew the Christie’s Duke was a wrong ‘un – something I hinted at with a heavy heart in Six of the Best because Sobers had been a boyhood hero of mine.
And that was that until May 2012, when the disputed Duke popped up for sale at Bonhams in Chester. As I continued looking for more evidence, I made the most startling discovery of all: while being filmed at St Helen’s six months before the 2006 Christie’s sale, Sobers had admitted that one ball had been used in the over and not three.
Once I’d established that the Bonhams lot entry relied heavily on the erroneous Christie’s catalogue notes, Operation Howzat? began in earnest. After being fobbed off by Bonhams’ sports memorabilia department, I threatened to go public with my evidence and was immediately invited to Chester. The saleroom director, Alexander Clement, spent an hour examining my material and promptly withdrew the ball because of my “compelling and conclusive” evidence.
The aim of Operation Howzat? was two-fold: I wanted to put right a most blatant wrong and clear the name of Sobers, a boyhood hero of mine. The strategy was straightforward: I hoped to persuade whoever had consigned the ball to Bonhams to return it to Britain. Then, along with my evidence, I could take it to Christie’s with Bernard Shapero, the London antiquarian book dealer who’d originally bought it for Tuli in 2006, and try to obtain a refund of the £26,400.
During the course of the investigation, some people ran for cover, others were downright unhelpful – even obstructive – and one in particular seemed incapable of telling the truth. But through the honesty of a handful of key players, I began to unravel the riddle in an investigation that often resembled an obstacle course.
With the help of my co-investigator Chris Davies, an independent filmmaker, cricket enthusiast and part-time antiques collector living in Lancaster, I made a series of important discoveries about Singhal, the consignor of the ball to Bonhams. From the moment I contacted him, Singhal appeared reluctant to accept that the Duke ball wasn’t the one bowled by Nash to Sobers or that it needed to be returned to Britain if any sort of refund was to be obtained. He initially appeared keen to help, yet ultimately proved unwilling to provide us with anything but the most basic of information.
So, through our own devices, we learned that the man who ran Faridabad Forgings, a petrochemical and automotive products company, was also the owner of Ashish Globotech and of a natural mineral water company called Genius Aquatech “Kristal”; he was also executive director of AEW Infratech, which specialised in solar power and turnkey projects. His LinkedIn entry also disclosed that he’d obtained an MBA at the Symbiosis International University based in Pune and over the next six months, I also discovered that he possessed a first-class degree in duplicity.
With the assistance of the IGI Airport and abcProcure, “Asia’s number 1 eProcurement solution provider” in Ahmedabad, we discovered that the antique bat and the ball had arrived in New Delhi in June 2008. Eighteen months later, the joint lot had been bought by Singhal through the online auction for about £940 but he later maintained that he’d paid a “little premium” over the £26,400 – or 50,000 American dollars – that a friend of his had allegedly spent on the ball at Christie’s in 2006.
When I queried his version of events, Singhal said he wasn’t worried about any negative publicity – “you are free to write whatever the truth is” – before insisting that “whatever the truth is must prevail.” At Shapero’s suggestion, I then agreed to act as broker between him and Singhal in an attempt to secure the safe return of the ball to Britain. Throughout the tortuous negotiations by both telephone and email, Singhal was difficult to contact and often slow to respond, but he always gave the impression that he was prepared to conclude a deal. He was happy to keep telling me that he would send the ball to Britain in order to keep the negotiations going – even though he knew, deep down, that he wouldn’t return it.
At first, Singhal wanted 75 per cent of the £26,400 refund we had hoped to obtain from Christie’s, but I managed to reduce that to 50 per cent. He later offered to sell us the ball for just over 37 per cent of the refund figure before trying to persuade Shapero to buy 25 vintage photos of people and places – including the ruling Princes of India, the Trimurti Elephanta Caves, the Palitana Temples and Rampart Row in Mumbai. All the proceeds from the sale would go to a charitable trust which ran schools and colleges for the education of underprivileged girls – what Singhal described as “a noble cause.”
At one stage, I suggested that either I or Lawrence Booth, the editor of Wisden who was in India covering England’s successful tour, should act as the ball’s courier but Singhal rejected both offers. When I drew up a draft contract, the document which was eventually returned to me from India was a ludicrous mixture of legalese and false statements. I ended the negotiations by explaining that a contract must be truthful before it can be legally binding.
It had taken some time to identify Neville Tuli as the original ball buyer because Shapero was determined to preserve his identity on the grounds of client confidentiality. Once the founder and chairman of Osian’s had been unmasked, my dealings with him were much productive than those I’d had to endure with Singhal. Tuli was quite happy to discuss his purchase of the ball and antique bat as “part of a vast knowledge-base for our museum which was/is being created on the fine and popular arts, cinema, culture and related aspects, with a focus on Indian and Asia, amid a larger historical framework” – his theosianama.com project which came on stream earlier this year.
He explained that the “economic downturn, our severe liquidity crunch, plus the 15% import duty chargeable as we had taken an import licence for the bat and ball” meant it stayed in customs along with many other objects. Tuli’s claim that he was paying monthly demurrage charges was later disputed by the IGI Airport but he confirmed that Singhal had offered him the opportunity to buy back the ball and negotiations had broken down over the asking price. “We had no liquidity to spare so the items were lost for ever,” reflected Tuli, “it was really very sad.”
Following my abortive attempt to bring the ball back from India I began, with the support of Lawrence Booth who’d commissioned an Operation Howzat? article for Wisden, to focus on the nine people involved in the 2006 sale: Sobers, Miller, Hassan, four current or former Christie’s employees and the Glamorgan and Nottinghamshire archivists. I wrote to them all to express my disquiet about the sale and request an interview.
Speaking from Barbados, Sobers said he’d made nothing from the sale and recalled signing the ball’s certificate of provenance after closely questioning Miller. “I’m a very innocent bystander because this ball was brought to me nearly 38 years after the event,” he said. “I didn’t look at the make and even if I had done, I wouldn’t remember what it was – impossible! I did what an honest human being would do for a person in trouble.”
Miller steadfastly insisted she had nothing to hide. In 1975, she’d put the ball in a make-up drawer until a ‘clean room’ extension to her home was needed because of her worsening oesophagus condition in 2006. Miller identified Max Dunbar, the current chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Museum, as the Christie’s specialist who had handled the sale and said she’d asked Hassan to ring Christie’s to vouch for her. After the auctioneers had deducted their 10 per cent, she’d received a cheque from them and then a phone call from Hassan asking for payment. She gave him £3,763.15 – 20 per cent of her net total.
Hassan acknowledged his key role in the certificate’s signing but denied contacting Christie’s or having anything to do with the erroneous lot notes. After repeated denials, he eventually admitted receiving – but not requesting – a cheque for nearly £4,000 from Miller, “like a commission.” Hassan said Sobers didn’t know about the arrangement and had been paid nothing because “he said he didn’t want any money from it.”
Nottinghamshire’s archivist Peter Wynne-Thomas recalled discussing the impending sale with Andrew Hignell on the phone before Glamorgan’s archivist went to Christie’s in 2006. “I think we talked about whether one or more balls had been used in the over,” he told me. “It’s a long time ago but I’m sure the make of the ball wasn’t mentioned.”
Having discussed his Christie’s meeting with me again – this time without restrictions – Hignell produced a curious catalogue of reasons for not being able to help my investigation, including a Six Sixes file containing no mention of any Christie’s contacts, some deleted emails and a lost diary. After eventually agreeing to answer my questions, he later decided not to, after taking legal advice.
The three Christie’s specialists proved almost as elusive. Current head of sale Rupert Neelands referred me to their communications director Matthew Paton, and Max Dunbar said he didn’t want to discuss something that had happened six years ago – “it’s no longer something I can talk about” – before referring me to Paton and also to David Convery, the head of Christie’s’ sporting memorabilia department in 2006. Convery had already implicated Dunbar by email and when I rang his Convery Auctions office at Blackburn near Edinburgh, he stressed that he’d not been involved in the ball’s sale. What about the author of the lot notes – was it Dunbar or Neelands? “It wasn’t me who wrote them,” he replied – and then hung up.
Christie’s refused to meet me but their dispute resolution department reviewed my evidence during a re-investigation of the sale. Their prevarication led to my Wisden article being dropped but finally a statement citing the ball’s “good provenance” and the certificate signed by Sobers was issued. They’d not “found evidence or knowledge of any wrongdoing that helps to shed any light on the subsequent controversy.” So the Duke was still the genuine article.
While Malcolm Nash now wants his role in cricketing history to be accurately acknowledged by Christie’s – “the ball was charred, scarred and scuffed but never changed and I’d like to see a conclusion to all this nonsense” – dealing with a heart condition has, understandably, taken priority. Although Miller and Hassan have both indicated their willingness to return their £18,800, Tuli doesn’t seem interested in retrieving his money.
Having survived the collapse of the Osian’s Art Fund, he is back on his feet and although his lawyers have studied my evidence, the cost of any legal action and the fact that the disputed Duke ball now belongs to Singhal means that its vexing verification and subsequent sale is unlikely to be taken up with Christie’s. “I am sure you have done as much as you can on the matter,” he told me recently, “for which you should be proud and respected.”
I am proud and I hope I’ll be respected. But I’m also bitterly disappointed that the unwritten 43rd Law of Cricket, covering the exercise of common sense, has been ignored by Christie’s. An opportunity to do the decent thing has been passed up by the world’s leading auction house, which made about £7,500 from the ball’s sale and, during the first six months of 2013, increased their global sales by nine per cent over the same period in 2012 to £2.4 billion.
Nearly seven years on, I still think the sale of that scruffy red cherry was “just not cricket.” Whatever happened to the three Ts - truth, transparency and trust – which underpin the whole business of buying and selling items at auction? In this case, they appear to have been sadly lacking. Conspiracy, or cock-up, or a mixture of both? Probably a perfect call for the third umpire and the problematic decision review system...
Grahame Lloyd is a freelance broadcaster and journalist based in Lincoln, England. He has written eight books about football and cricket including Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery. It is published by Celluloid and can be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org for £14.99 plus postage and packing.
The Case of The Fake Six Sixes Ball
The ball that Garry Sobers supposedly smashed around for the historic Six Sixes on a late summer’s day in 1968 was auctioned for £26,400 in 2006. But what if it was the wrong ball? The results of one writer’s 18-month investigationBy Grahame Lloyd | Grist Media – Tue 29 Oct, 2013 10:07 AM IST
“Whatever the truth is must prevail and we should all be happy to abide by that.”
- No live matches are in progress.
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