IPL 5: Make the Match
When the business of entertainment meets the game of cricket, fixing matches becomes temptingly easier and super-lucrative
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
Cricket and Bollywood – India's twin mass obsessions – are apparently dissimilar platforms, although held together by a common idea of stardom, of mass hysteria for larger-than-life idols. Individuals in the world of cricket and those in the business of entertainment often have overlapping social lives, sometimes leading to romantic dalliances across the occupational divide. In the 1960s, the whirlwind romance of West Indian legend Sir Garfield Sobers and upcoming model Anju Mahendru during the West Indies tour of India opened a new gateway of relationship between the two upcoming industries.
From the Sobers-Mahendru affair to recent rumours of Virat Kohli's relationship with Sarah Jane Dias, there have been many such link-ups over the years, providing sensational grist to the gossip mills. Though most such affairs ended in break-ups – and many turned out to be mere rumours –some did live up to the expectations of the time.
No one can deny that Bollywood's women have often been fascinated with cricketers, and vice versa. However, when a different kind of match-fixing comes to light, the linkages go beyond the realm of the innocuously sensational, touching a new, criminal low.
The Sunday Times, London, carried a story on a Bollywood actor being used as a honey-trap to lure cricketers into fixing matches. The newspaper didn't name the woman, but published a hazy image of a model-turned-startlet. Curiosity about the identity of the woman behind the image that was making headlines across the globe led many Bollywood and cricket fans to hear the name of Nupur Mehta for the first time. In two days an unknown face became a celebrity of sorts, with cameras and reporters chasing her for a snap and a byte.
After all, the allegation is as big as it gets: what had been allegedly fixed was perhaps one of the greatest matches of cricket history. The Sunday Times accused Mehta of playing a fixing role in the India-Pakistan semifinal of the ICC World Cup 2011, played on March 30, at Mohali. She was used to lure Pakistani players to underperform in the match, the UK newspaper claimed on the basis of a sting operation pulled on a Delhi-based bookie. Titled 'English cricket in bung scandal', the report also accused Indian bookmakers of fixing the results of English county championship matches and international games. It referred to evidence that tens of thousands of pounds were offered to players to throw away part or all of international matches, including last year's World Cup semifinal between India and Pakistan.
The seeds of match-fixing, according to the report, are dug deep in English country cricket. It mentions the exact price offered to players for different roles in fixing county championship matches. Batsmen were offered "typically 44,000 pounds for slow scoring, 50,000 pounds for bowlers who concede runs and as much as 750,000 pounds to players or officials who can guarantee the outcome of a match".
Mehta, on her part, has denied all the accusations against her, saying her name was wrongly dragged into the issue, and that her image on the Jo Bole So Nihal poster was used to tarnish her reputation. In a statement to the press, she clarified that although she has friends among cricketers from across the globe, including India, and she also dated Tillakaratne Dilshan, the former Sri Lankan skipper in past, she played no role in match-fixing. Calling herself 'bold', she said she has the right to do anything in her personal life, and threatened to sue the British newspaper.
A freelancer with Fulcrum, an event management company, Mehta had moved to Milan for some time after winning the 'Miss Delhi' crown at the age of 17, and then returned to participate in the 2003 Miss India pageant. She made her Bollywood debut in 2004 in a children's film Abracadabra. Her 'big break' came with Jo Bole So Nihal, starring Sunny Deol – a movie that made no box-office headlines.
It is common knowledge that changes in time and format have helped cricket become a money-minting source of entertainment associated with glitz and glamour as much as skilled performance. With the popularity of the T20 format and the Indian Premier League (IPL), cricket – like all big business – today involves big money, and by extension, all the murkiness that surrounds the pursuit of lucre. When two teams clash on the cricket fields, there's now too much at stake in the world outside – huge amounts of money to be made or lost.
Gone are the days when Bollywood women used to be interested in cricketers for their looks and assorted charms. As Anju Mahendru, who once dated Sobers, puts it: "It's cute to see a cricketer and an actress together, but honestly, today's romances are more about publicity and well-strategized marketing. There is little genuine emotion involved, unlike in our time when romances were born out of love."
Nupur Mehta was accused of fixing the India-Pakistan semifinal of the ICC World Cup 2011. Did she?
In 2008 many Bollywood stars – Priety Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and Juhi Chawla – with little knowledge of the game, as they have repeatedly admitted on several occasions, decided to join the BCCI's mouth-watering money-trapping million dollar baby, IPL. Be it SRK-Chawla's Kolkata Knight Riders or Zinta's Kings XI Punjab, the teams are doing good business without winning a single trophy till date.
What is the real truth behind the match-fixing probe? Who are the bookies and agents responsible for it? After spending six months in prison for the 'spot-fixing' scandal, Mohammad Aamir came out with a stunning justification that he had been tricked by his former skipper Salman Butt and the bookie Mazhar Majeed. It may sound like a plea for forgiveness, but where was Aamir's mind when his captain asked him to bowl a deliberate no ball? Why would a bowler, who feels he was tricked, agree to cross the line during his run up, that too on two occasions in a single match?
The reason is quite simple. The player has to choose what he has to do. He could have been misguided, but even at the last minute it is up to him whether to do the act or not. If money is on the mind, he will do it, no matter what.
So how are cricketers actually approached with match-fixing offers? Surely, no one would be approached while he is out shopping in a mall or spending time with his family. Corporate endorsements, outdoor shootings and late night parties are the usual venues where such unethical offers are made.
Four IPL seasons, with the ubiquitous partying scene that further blurred the boundaries between the social lives of cricketers and the Page 3 circuit, seems to have made cricketers more conspicuously vulnerable to the temptation of fast, easy money than ever before. Neither BCCI nor the IPL franchise owners provided details of people attending those parties. From Bollywood stars to video jockeys, professional models to cheerleaders, the late night parties had them all.
Nupur Mehta is just one name. Others too have spoken about being approached to fix IPL matches. Lisa Malik, a small-time TV soap actor and stage performer, was reportedly offered Rs 50 lakhs to act as a honey-trap during IPL Season IV. With another IPL round – Season V – and the return of glamorous late night parties and lots of controversy, the threat of matches getting fixed looms large.