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‘Cricket tends to protect its secrets’

Kadambari Murali Wade, editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated India, speaks of their forthcoming issue on match-fixing in cricket. She touches upon how they tapped into the world of bookies, the shocking truths which emerged from their investigations, and what they plan to do with the 400-odd minutes of taped conversations.

Based on your findings, would you say that despite the Cronje shake-up and the more recent punishment handed out to three Pakistan players, is there still rampant corruption in cricket?

Based on our findings, I would say there is cause to believe that there is corruption in cricket because of easy, often unrestricted access to certain players and player agents. How rampant that is, is something that cricket's authorities would be better placed to find out, if they are so inclined.

The story hints that some BCCI functionaries are actively battling corruption while others are tacitly encouraging it. Is the BCCI divided on the issue of corruption?

This is a question for the BCCI really, about whether the BCCI is a divided house on this, it would be unfair of me to make a sweeping generalisation on the BCCI's thought process as a group. One of the officials quoted in the story told us that when he was "extremely unhappy" at the access to players during the IPL's second season in South Africa and some of "characters hanging around hotels". About encouraging it, yes, there is every indication that certain cricket officials do not discourage the presence of known middlemen, and people acknowledged to be bookies or having links to bookies.

How much, according to you, are player agents contributing to this corruption? Do you have the sense that agents are operating without the knowledge of the players, or are the players themselves complicit?

From what I've heard, on these recordings, in countless conversations with people to try and verify some of the recordings, and otherwise, over years covering cricket, player agents in India have a lot to answer for. The BCCI chooses to ignore them, but that isn't a solution. Player agents manage these young men who make and can make crores, their backgrounds need to be verified, why isn't anyone checking to see if they are qualified to act as managers, and to offer financial, emotional, ethical advice to players? It sometimes seems that anyone can become an agent, you just need to be on first name terms with a player, or his buddy. That's not the way it should be. It isn't fair to the players or to the game.

I can't really answer the other part of your question, as there are many players who haven't been referred to at all in these conversations. A few have, repeatedly, so while we haven't named them because we don't have proof of their complicity in anything unethical, I think it's safe to say they do raise some red flags and could perhaps be watched/advised that perception is everything.

Your reporter Heena Zuni Pandit spent close to six months on this story. Did you have any apprehensions in involving a young, female reporter with such shady characters as bookies?

Yes, I have been really worried! Honestly, when we first discussed the story in October, we didn't know where it would go. Zuni's story actually began with a chance recorded conversation she overheard, between a bookie and a top player. Till then, we hadn't seriously considered that there was any real truth to rumours all cricket reporters hear. We then sat her down before we gave the investigation the go ahead and talked it over, the pros, the cons, the potential dangers. Unfortunately, as she was undercover, no one else could accompany her, as it might have looked suspicious, but she's been really sensible, informed us about exactly where she was going every time she went somewhere, kept her cellphone charged and called in after every meeting and told us she was okay. At other times, she wasn't alone, there were cops around, in mufti, so it was okay. But yes, I think Zuni showed tremendous courage, enterprise and a dogged perseverance in going after this story.

Please tell us about the process of the story, and the difficulties faced by Zuni.

I think I've covered part of this in the previous answer. But as part of the processes, we tried to double-check everything, whatever we have was recorded. What we couldn't, we didn't mention. There are lots of things on tape that we hope someone in authority will want to at least hear and then probe further. We've also left out player names mentioned because unless you actually catch them in the act, it's not fair to say something. We have mentioned Afridi by name though, because it was fascinating that more than one bookie told us he couldn't be touched, he was clean. Given how Pakistan has suffered in the recent past, this was a nice change.

Your story mentions an umpire. Are the enforcers of the game’s laws also prone to corruption?

The umpire came up in conversation several times as a close friend of a top Delhi bookie. He was the only umpire mentioned by name in this particular context.

You have informed the BCCI and the ICC about your findings. What is their response?

We have not officially asked either the BCCI or the ICC for comment. That's their call, it's ours to report the story, theirs to let us know what they think, if they so wish. What we have done, is informally inform people in both the ICC and the BCCI, as a courtesy, that we are pursuing this story at various stages of the investigation, the earliest being in December 2010. As we have spoken to a few officials during the process of fact-checking, they were aware that we were following this story. We are happy though, to provide copies of the recordings to anyone in the BCCI/ICC for verifying their authenticity or to take it further, if they are inclined to do so.

Your story mentions an Indian player or players involved in nefarious activities. Why were they not named?

Players were not named simply because we did not catch them in the act, we heard recordings. Which is why, in the excerpts of transcripts published, we have deleted the names. In the case where we made a reference to an India player in the story, we mentioned that his state coach had asked his Ranji team-mates to stay away from him when they were in Delhi, because of the company the player kept. We got that from the coach, who didn't want to be named, understandably, because cricket tends to protect its secrets.

You have 400 minutes of taped conversation. But the story only has a small clip besides sanitised references of these conversations. Is there any reason for keeping much of the detail out of the story?

The story actually has a few transcripts, not a word changed, which is also why we've kept the Hindi stuff. It's a difficult story to double-check, so we've done what we could and printed that part, which is also why there are some references that would be obvious to many people. We've kept quite a few transcripts and details out because we'd like to turn the recordings over to any interested authorities, whether cricket officials or the police, to take it further, and for legal reasons.

You say in the story that your investigation still continues. What next?

We'll let you know when we're ready!

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