‘Caught Out: Crime, Corruption, Cricket’ Explained: Was Azhar Guilty Of Match-Fixing?

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Directed by Supriya Sobti Gupta, “Caught Out: Crime, Corruption, Cricket” tells a tale about that dark period in Indian cricket history where all hope seemed lost, and it felt like we would never be able to come out of it. In order to understand what the game of cricket means for the masses living in the Indian subcontinent, one needs to understand the socio-political and geo-political factors. When Kapil Dev’s Team won the Cricket World Cup in 1983, there was a surge of confidence among the masses that they could do something. The world cup was won by a bunch of boys in England, but it felt like every person back in India had accomplished something. 

The Indians realized that they might not be as developed as the first-world nations, but they had the potential to reach the top. There was a sudden change in the body language of the people, and they stopped considering themselves inferior to anyone. Kapil Dev’s men had done the impossible; they had defeated the invincible and deadly West Indies, and what it did was make the people believe that they were meant for greatness and that they wouldn’t compromise for anything less. The picture of Kapil Dev lifting the trophy in the Lord’s stadium was etched in history, and from that day onward, cricket became a religion, and the players became the idols of the entire country. People are very sensitive about their beliefs, culture, and religion, and most of the time, they do not take criticism pertaining to any of those topics nicely. That is why, when Outlook magazine published an article in their 1997 edition titled “India’s worst kept secret,” everybody questioned its credibility. The article was written by Aniruddha Bahal, an investigative sports journalist, and his source was none other than Manoj Prabhakar, the former Indian player.

Manoj Prabhakar’s reputation was such that nobody wanted to believe in him. When the BCCI conducted an internal investigation and didn’t find anyone guilty, the scandal was forgotten, and the country moved ahead. The BCCI even sued Outlook Magazine and Prabhakar for five crore rupees for allegedly defaming the game and questioning the credibility of the players.


Hansie Cronje Gets Caught Accidentally

According to K.K. Paul, a former joint commissioner of police, in the year 2000, a person made a complaint about threatening calls that he had been receiving for extortion, and the Delhi Police started tapping the phones, which is where they accidentally came across a conversation between a bookie and the South African captain Hansie Cronje. The police conducted a press conference and told the people that, according to their findings, the one-day series between South Africa and India was fixed. The entire nation was in shock, and they didn’t know if any Indian player had also been involved in it. At that point in time, Cronje denied all allegations, and the South African cricket board supported him and called the accusations outrageous and defamatory. Cronje stalled the authorities for quite some time but finally confessed to his crimes, and the cricketing world was stunned to hear the news of one of the most admired players committing such blasphemy. The truth came out in the open, and people in India realized that even their idols could commit crimes and betray their trust. But until that moment, nobody knew what the involvement of the Indian players was in the whole fiasco or if anybody had conspired with Hansie Cornje to fix the matches.


Tehelka Conducts A Sting Operation

In the year 2000, when this entire scandal had taken the country by storm, Minty Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal started a company called Tehelka, and they wanted the match-fixing story to be the first thing that they published on their portal. Minty had gone to London and bought some cutting-edge equipment like hidden cameras, as he knew that to get the truth out, he had to resort to unconventional methods. Manoj Prabhakar came on board, and he agreed to lay the bait for his colleagues and get information from them. Prabhakar said that he wanted to clean up the sport that had given him so much, but a lot of people thought that he had some ulterior motives behind doing so. The moment Minty Tejpal saw the footage that had been recorded by Manoj Prabhakar and Bahal, he knew he had an explosive story on his hands. Minty didn’t want to hasten the process, as he knew that every little bit of detail had the potential to create a furor. Finally, the film came out, and everybody, from journalists to lawyers to politicians, was waiting anxiously to find out what Tehelka had to tell them.

Manoj Prabhakar told Minty Tejpal and others that the cricketer who had offered him a bribe to underperform was none other than the former Indian captain and legend Kapil Dev. The nation was shattered. At first, no one believed that their hero could betray their trust. But Prabhakar was challenging the god of cricket, and people didn’t know who to put their faith in any longer. It was about time the country’s most prestigious investigative agency, the CBI, was brought on board to look into the matter.


What Did The CBI Find Out? Was Azhar Guilty Of Match-Fixing?

In the documentary, “Caught Out: Crime, Corruption, Cricket,” we saw that Ravi Sawani (the former CBI joint director for special crimes) was called to take charge of the investigation, and he knew that whatever evidence had been procured by the sting operation conducted by Tehelka was anecdotal in nature and couldn’t be used in a court of law. So the CBI started making a list of all the important bookies and calling them in for investigation. The CBI got to know that the bookies had a boss who was mostly an influential person from the underworld, and every link took them back to the most wanted criminal in India, Daud Ibrahim.

Daud’s base of operations was Sharjah, and he used to control the entire match by sitting in the stadium and coordinating with the bookies and the players over call. But the problem was that the CBI wasn’t able to get people on record because everybody was too scared to say anything about the issue. Daud Ibrahim was a powerful man, and though he was not in India, the bookies and the people involved knew that one phone call from him would make their entire life a living hell.

At this point in time, Hansie Cronje confessed before the Kings Commission that he had been contacted by a bookie named MK Gupta. The problem was that MK Gupta was nowhere to be found, even after the CBI searched every corner of the country. Gupta contacted Neeraj Kumar (the former CBI joint director), as he might have felt the pressure and realized that he wouldn’t be able to hide for long. MK Gupta was brought to the CBI headquarters, where he finally opened up and told the authorities the entire story. Gupta was a schemer, and he knew that he would only earn real profits if he had somebody on the inside. He was aware of the fact that contacting any player was not an easy task, as most of them didn’t entertain random people. So he went to the grass-roots and started looking for players who had the talent to make it into the Indian cricket team in the near future. That was how Gupta met a talented youngster named Ajay Sharma.

Gupta won his trust by bribing him, and when Ajay went on to play for the national Team, he became Gupta’s source inside the Indian cricket team’s dressing room. MK Gupta said that he met Mohammad Azharuddin through Ajay Sharma, and that was when he started dealing with him. Azhar’s name had popped up several times during the Tehelka investigation as well, but nobody paid much attention to it as there was no strong evidence against him. A lot of people felt that Azhar had money coming from illegitimate sources, and there was footage of him shopping at Harrods in London. Azhar never paid for any of his expensive watches or other things that he owned, and there was always a third party paying for his expenses. Apparently, Azhar was running a locker in the Taj Hotel, and whoever wanted to pay him any money just came and deposited it there. When the CBI interrogated the employees of the hotel, they learned how many bookies kept depositing money there.

It was impossible for the people to accept that their hero had sold their nation. It was said that God created Azhar’s wrist on a leisurely afternoon and that he was truly a champion batsman, but now, that reputation was at stake with those newfound allegations. Azhar confessed in front of the CBI that he had taken money and gifts from bookies and intentionally underperformed in several matches. In the 75-page report that the CBI gave to the ministry, it was said that match-fixing was rampant in India, but the problem was that it was not a criminal offense at that point, so legally they couldn’t take any action against Azharuddin.

The BCCI was compelled to take some action, and so they banned Mohammad Azharuddin for life, though in 2012, it was ruled by a high court that the ban was illegal and unsustainable. Sawani always maintained that Azhar was guilty, and the high court had given a ruling against them on technical grounds. Azhar denied that he had ever confessed about anything in front of the CBI, though there was a fax that was found when the income tax authorities raided his wife, Sangeeta Bijlani’s house, where he had accepted everything he had told the CBI.

Today, an anti-corruption team stays with the Indian cricket team wherever they go, and they make sure that they keep a check on the strangers who the players come in contact with. Kapil Dev was found not guilty of the accusation that had been made against him by Manoj Prabhakar, but India still needed a miracle to come out of the abyss and prove to the entire nation that they were worthy of being trusted.

In the year 2001, India created history by winning a test match against Australia after getting a follow-on in the Border Gavaskar Trophy, and two young players from Hyderabad and Bangalore, respectively, proved that Indian Team couldn’t be bought, no matter how alluring the offer might be.


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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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