Azhar's Wheel Of Fortune
Charged with match-fixing, vindicated after 12 years
'I am not surprised to see him where he is now, no,' says K. Madhavan, appointed by the BCCI to conduct an inquiry into the match-fixing report authored by M.A. Ganapathy. 'Honesty is not a necessary ingredient in India to becoming an MP. But, please, I have changed my view of him after these years. Of course, what he did was despicable. Please remember that all these people (cricketers) become big by the time they are 22 or 23. Considering the wisdom that comes at age of 35 to 40 by making mistakes, I don't know whether he was crooked or it was his age.'
Azharuddin was three hours late for his appointment with Madhavan at the Ramada Manohar Hotel on 16 November 2000. 'He was deeply worried,' Madhavan recalls. 'He was ashamed he was caught. When initially I called him, he refused to come. Then through a messenger I showed him my purpose was not a witch-hunt, my purpose was a fair inquiry and to only fault people who had committed some crime or some irregularities.' Having put Azharuddin at ease, Madhavan's first question was 'Aur tum desh ko kab se bechne mein lage huay ho?' (Since when have you been selling the country?) Azharuddin buried his face in his hands.
Despite his show of emotion and anxiety, Azharuddin stonewalled. He defended himself. Having admitted in Ganapathy's report that he had 'done' three matches, he denied he had done anything wrong to Madhavan. 'Most of the people who are caught in India,' Madhavan says, 'they keep denying until the end. Even after the Supreme Court says they are guilty, they deny. But there is one redeeming feature of the West-that 50 per cent of the people confess. Clinton finally confessed he had an affair with Monica (Lewinsky). In the past 50 years no Indian politician has confessed. No one confesses. Even crossing a red light they will deny, which is a very minor violation.'
I take a sun lounger nearby, attempting to eavesdrop on conversations. Jonathan Trott and Samit Patel make an appearance before leaving in the direction of the gym. (Ian) Bell, (Jonny) Bairstow and (Graham) Onions take to the pool for lengths with the fitness coach, a barrel of a chap, monitoring the session. When the drill is over, I splash in. Onions is taking time out at one end, Bell the other.
Onions is guarded. He is not going to be playing, but this is not news. He 'thinks' England will play the same team that was beaten in the last game in Mohali. 'Thinks' is not likely to cut it with Parthiv or Vinay. Onions does reveal that the pitch is 'very flat' and that 'dew won't be an issue'.
I take a few lengths of the pool before approaching Bell, who is supporting his weight on his arms, which rest on the ledge of the pool, held tilted back and soaking up the rays.
'I'm hoping I'll be watching you bat later, Ian,' I say, truthfully. He is widely regarded as a certain addition to the England team by both India and English media, a remedy for a spluttering batting line-up so far.
'No such chance,' he says.
'Really? I thought you were a certainty to play.'
'Well, unless there's going to be a last-minute change of heart?'
I dry off and go back to my room, sharing a lift with Trevor Penney (India's fielding coach). He says the wicket should spin. I text Parthiv and Vinay: 'Bell not playing. Two changes to Eng bowling, but waiting for final look at pitch. Meaker has good chance. Pitch is v flat. Eng say no dew.'
A few quid in a brown envelope slid under a hotel room door, perhaps an iPad left at reception or a drink bought at the bar would be all it would take for Onions, Bell and Penney, in the eyes of the ACSU, to be guilty of corruption. It is as easy as that. In its simplicity, the difficulty facing the sport is clear. These are the types of conversations players have over and over again when they encounter supporters. They would almost certainly consider them banal and harmless. Nine-nine times out of 100 they would be right. Today was a one cent day.