India Today TV aired a sting operation in which Pandurang Salgoancar, curator with the Maharashtra Cricket Association, was seen talking to reporters (posing as bookies) with startling abandon about the pitch, how it would play, what kind of bowling it would support.
Much of what Salgaoncar says is innocuous cricket talk. Some of his statements are unsupported by how the match transpired. He says, for instance, that the pitch under purview would play true and that both teams would score over 300. In fact, New Zealand finished with 230.
To give the issue perspective, it is not uncommon for groundsmen to discuss the kind of pitch prepared with the media. Till about two decades back, cricket writers would also be allowed to `inspect’ a pitch, sometimes even a short while before a match commenced.
But that does not absolve Salgaoncar of his misdemeanor. A lot has changed in the game since match-fixing and betting came above the radar. Since then, the game’s minders have put in place processes and systems to stymie the possibility of corruption as much as possible.
The issue is not whether Salgaoncar read the pitch he himself prepared wrongly, or indeed whether he was trying to deliberately mislead the reporters after sensing something fishy. In fact, if the latter is true, it compounds Salgaoncar’s felony.
What is damning is that he played footsie with those not connected with the conduct of the match. Why did he not report the approach made by the reporters to the authorities as is now mandatory for all those associated with a match?
Apart from having an extended conversation with the reporters on the nature of the pitch, Salgaoncar was also seen providing them access to the 22-yard strip to be used for Wednesday’s match. This is in violation of the norms imposed by the administration as he himself admits on tape.
Worse, there is also some discussion about money. Even if inconclusive that Salgaoncar has asked for, or taken any, the fact that this cropped up in the discussion is of a grave nature and naturally gives rise to suspicion.
Fears that the match would be called off after the sting operation was telecast didn’t hold true fortunately. The ICC has asked for an inquiry, but did not prevent the BCCI from going ahead with the game. There were no objections from either side, particularly the visitors.
But Indian cricket’s image is unquestionably sullied. The sting operation has already caused immense damage not only to Salgaoncar (who has been suspended from the MCA), but also Indian cricket that has been riled by betting and match-fixing issues since circa 2000.
The fact that a curator and a former first-class player of high achievement – should even be sucked into such a conversation reveals how vulnerable the sport – and especially in India – remains still. The incident also brings into sharp focus the haplessness of the Anti Corruption Unit (ACU). It was completely clueless of the goings on.
The IPL betting controversy of 2013 showed that the menace of corruption lingered long after the first expose in 2000. The intervention of the Supreme Court in the matter and subsequently the formation of a Committee Of Administrators was perceived as a major step ahead in cleansing Indian cricket.
Unless Salgaoncar can come up with foolproof defence, the current controversy shows it to be still grimy.
From the press boxInd vs NZIndia Today StingIndia vs new ZealandPandurang SalgaoncarPune CuratorSalgaoncar Sting
First Published: October 26, 2017, 2:09 PM IST