As accusations of match fixing flew fast and wide, former Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin’s name began to be mentioned in all the unexpected and wrong places. A Gulf News report stated that a leading Pakistani jeweller in Dubai had gifted Azharuddin, then captain, a Mercedes Benz car during a lucky draw he had conducted on behalf of his firm to celebrate India’s win during the Coca Cola Cricket Cup in November 1998.When Outlook magazine reported it, Azhar reacted by saying the editor should have known that a car, unlike a toy, could not be brought into India without government and public knowledge.
Interestingly though, what has never been brought on record and hence remains unsubstantiated is the claim by some of the investigators that the businessman who gifted the Mercedes to Azhar was none other than Dawood Ibrahim himself! But this piece of news got overlooked as the battle over Cronje continued. On 15 June 2000, Cronje came up with a shocker: he told the King Commission that Azharuddin had introduced him to a bookie who offered him money to throw a 1996 Test match during South Africa’s tour of India.
Cronje told the commission that Azharuddin introduced him to one Mukesh Gupta – known in betting circles as MK – from whom he received $ 30,000 in return for a promise to throw the third Test match at Kanpur – the aforementioned game at the beginning of the previous chapter. In his long-awaited testimony, Cronje dwelt almost entirely on the temptations and perils he had met in the subcontinent as well as in encounters with players from the subcontinent. The other international cricketer he named was Pakistan’s Salim Malik.
Cronje admitted at the very outset that he had lied repeatedly, saying he did this to protect the younger players. He admitted his initial public denials to the UCBSA were untruthful. He went on to depose that the letter of 11 April 2000 was also untruthful in a number of respects, as were the subsequent press statements issued on his instructions. He had misled the UCBSA and members of the South African government, and had also withheld facts from his legal representatives. He categorically stated he had not been honest and hence apologized unreservedly.
In his twenty-three-page testimony, Cronje said his very first exposure to the world of betting and match-fixing was during an ODI against Pakistan in the Mandela Cup at Cape Town in January 1995, when ‘an Indian or Pakistani who introduced himself only as John’ offered him about $ 10,000 for the team to throw the game. The second time was ‘at some stage during the 1996 Indian tour,’ when he was approached by one ‘Sunil’ who asked him if he was interested in fixing matches, to which he replied in the negative. But it was through Azhar, he said, that he entered into something that he had been avoiding all along:
‘On the evening of the third day of the third Test against India at Kanpur, I received a call from Mohammad Azharuddin, who was friendly with a number of South African players. He called me to a room in the hotel and introduced me to Mukesh Gupta (MK). Azharuddin then left us alone . . . MK asked me if we would give wickets away on the last day of that Test to ensure that we lost. He asked me to speak to the other players, and gave me approximately $30,000 in cash to do so. I led him to believe that I would.
This seemed an easy way to make money, but I had no intention of doing anything. I did not speak to any other player and did nothing to influence the match. In the event, however, we lost the Test. I had effectively received money for doing nothing and I rationalized that this was somehow acceptable because I had not actually done anything.
MK, however, made another offer during the tour, Cronje said, when his team was offered $ 200,000 to throw the last ODI of the tour. Cronje was asked to convey the offer to the team, which he consented to. By that stage of the ‘long and arduous tour’, Cronje said, the team was exhausted and a number of key players were suffering from injuries. Explaining that he could not recall the exact sequence of events which took place ‘a long time ago’, Cronje said he spoke about the offer to some players beforehand and later at a team meeting on the eve of the match ‘attended by all the players in the squad’. The team, however, rejected the offer, with Andrew Hudson, Daryll Cullinan and Derek Crookes speaking out strongly against it. Despite this, a few players stayed back after the meeting and ‘we chatted about the matter’. Curious to see whether the offer could be increased, Cronje says he telephoned MK and asked to increase the amount to $ 300,000. ‘MK said this was too much but was ready to pay $ 250,000. This new offer was discussed the next morning before the match and rejected.’
All in all, Cronje confessed to taking about $ 100,000 in bribes from gamblers since 1996, but he claimed he had never thrown or fixed a match. He also announced his retirement from cricket, concluding that his ‘great passion for the game and for my teammates’ was matched by ‘an unfortunate love for money’ – famous words that sealed his fate.
This excerpt from ‘No Ball: The Murky World of Match Fixing’, written by Chandramohan Puppala, has been published with permission from Pan Macmillan India.