Prem Panicker

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Prem has been writing about cricket since 1996 -- and sometimes wishes he hadn't.

Out, damned spots!

Thanks to England's brinkmanship, Ireland's rare courage, Pakistan's unpredictable traveling circus and suchlike, news that otherwise would have made the front pages has been flying under the radar.

There was the incident during the India-Netherlands game at the Kotla, when a news channel spotted a certain Pradeep Agarwal in the Indian dressing room -- an area that, per ICC rules, is strictly for players and accredited officials only.

Agarwal has an unsavory history, laced liberally with words such as 'bookie'. The same channel had, back in 2008 during an IPL fixture between Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals, kicked up a fuss about Agarwal's presence in the Daredevils changing area and had him evicted.

Now he is back, as the DDCA's media coordinator for the World Cup -- a role that gives him access, however temporary, to the Indian dressing room. The entry of non-accredited persons into the dressing room requires the clearance of the ICC's anti-corruption unit. Post the event RN Sawani, general manager of the ACSU, issued a statement that said 'Pradeep was appointed as the official local liaison official for the Indian team by DDCA, and it was only on the invitation of the team manager that Pradeep was provided temporary visitor access pass for the Players and Match Officials Area.'

Sawani further clarified that there are no known issues with the India-Netherlands game -- and while on that, I'd like to point out that this post is in no way a suggestion that there was.

The question Agarwal's presence raises is not whether a particular game was tainted or no. The real question is, when match and/or spot fixing remains so firmly in the spotlight, when cricket and its officials need to mirror Caesar's wife and not merely be above suspicion but be seen to be so, why does the DDCA (a hotbed of corruption, per the authority of no less than Virender Sehwag himself) name someone with a cloud of suspicion hanging over him as its liaison? And why does team manager Ranjib Biswal, whose first duty should be to protect the interests of the team, grant him entry?

Back in 2008 Kirti Azad, Member of Parliament and member, too, of the laughably named DDCA Improvement Committee, promised action not only against Agarwal, but also against those who, Azad said, were helping the tainted official flourish. Which, in the time-honored tradition of DDCA's promises to clean up its act, remains unfulfilled.

And that brings us to today, and the latest news surfacing on Cricinfo. The website reports that Devendra Sharma, a BCCI umpire involved in liaison work for the ICC during the World Cup, has been removed from duty after Star News caught him on camera supplying information about the pitch and conditions before a game.

Note the role Sharma was playing: 'liaison'. Which appears to have become a back door means for all sorts of people to secure all-access passes.

Here's the money quote, from the Cricinfo story:

Star News also claimed to have recorded five BCCI umpires, and a former umpire, who were allegedly willing to violate professional rules and ethics by agreeing to participate in a corporate tournament that was not sanctioned by the BCCI or any of the state associations. The umpires apparently also agreed to favour certain players with their decisions.

"Reporters tell the umpires that in the tournament some players could get promotions and bonus in their company if they performed well in this tournament," the channel said. "For this the players also depended on 'favours' from the umpires. All six agree that they will be lenient on decisions like LBW and caught behind. They also inform our undercover reporters that a list of players to be favoured should be given to them before matches."

Cautionary tales, these -- and clear indicators that for all the king's horses and the ACSU's men, much that is not kosher keeps happening just beneath the seemingly placid surface of the game.

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