A post on social media got an U-19 cricketer from the Northeast curious.
He got in touch with Moin Ali who had asked rookie cricketers aspiring to play for their State in various age-group tournaments and Ranji Trophy to get in touch with him. The post attracted quite a bit of attention and many aspirants got in touch with the man.
“He (Ali) spoke to me in Hindi and told me that I had only five days to submit the documents for the State-level matches. He said that if I was interested, I needed to immediately send my documents to him, and that I could pay the charges after three matches,” the youngster told Sportstar on the condition of anonymity. Ali refused to disclose the charges beforehand.
When the young cricketer enquired about the team that he would represent, Ali gave him a vague answer. “I was told that several teams were looking for players and that he would get me a place in one of them.”
Ali’s constant name-dropping made the youngster further suspicious. “Ali’s Facebook profile claimed that he hailed from Delhi and was passionate about cricket. No other details were provided, but he had a lot of followers. He also claimed to be close to several domestic players and officials across cricket associations throughout the country,” the cricketer said.
He told his seniors about the incident and was advised to report it to his respective State unit. “At first, I had merely called him out of curiosity because I wanted to know how a player could be suddenly drafted into a team without following the usual selection process,” the player said.
“But after talking to him, I was convinced that he was neither a selector nor a representative of any of the six teams from the Northeast. And that’s when I decided to alert my friends and the concerned authorities. I don’t even know whether Ali was his real name…”
On hearing about the post, several State associations from the NorthEast jumped into action. They alerted BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit and ran social media campaigns cautioning people against falling for imposters approaching them with false promises.
Ali’s social media account appears to have been deleted, and the phone numbers that had been listed in the post are now inactive.
Hard to track down
Ever since the NorthEast teams of India made their debut in BCCI-affiliated tournaments in 2018, undesirable elements regularly surface, promising players a spot in the team for money. Most associations claim to have acted strictly but such cases are not uncommon.
In June, barely a couple of months after the ‘offer’ from Moin Ali was made, the Arunachal Cricket Association (ACA) lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against a man named Prakash Lamani at the Itanagar Police Station for ‘defaming’ the State cricket association.
In its FIR — which Sportstar has seen — ACA secretary Kabak Geda alleged that Lamani had “tampered with the State association’s property” by circulating and posting a fake timeline of ACA’s trial and selection schedule, and by openly inviting interested candidates to get in touch with him via WhatsApp.
“The idea was very clear — target the young cricketers and then lure them with false promises. Back then, we had not even announced the schedule for trial and selections, but he changed the format of the previous year’s notice and made it look as if it were for the upcoming season,” Geda says.
The ACA was alerted to it by a few aspiring cricketers and their parents who had called up on the WhatsApp number. “It was outright fake and that person had nothing to do with the ACA or any of the NorthEast teams. These fraudulent people often ask for money and then go into hiding. We have time and again requested the cricketers to be alert and as an association, too, we are always keeping an eye on such things,” Geda says.
But keeping an eye is not enough. Over the years, State associations have realised that the rackets involve groups of people who usually operate from fake social media handles and keep on changing their WhatsApp numbers.
“It is really hard for a State association to keep tracking them because in the past we have seen that those people usually operate from Delhi or Uttar Pradesh. They pose as officials or selectors of NorthEast teams and then trap young cricketers, who often get carried away by the lure of fame and glamour. By the time, they realise that they have been duped, there is very little that can be done,” Geda says.
According to Geda, people are becoming more aware of such scams, thanks to the combined efforts of the State associations. But those who track cricket in the NorthEast claim it is impossible for such rackets to operate in the region without ‘inside help’. In the past, there have been allegations of corruption against office-bearers of the NorthEast associations.
Last year, Gurugram Police had served notices to nine people — including ACA president Nabam Vivek — to join the investigation in a case related to a cricket scam. This was done after the Economic Offence Wing (EOW-2) busted a gang for allegedly duping aspiring cricketers of several lakh rupees, promising them selection in various teams and tournaments.
NorthEast cricket has always been a soft target. One of the late entrants to the domestic circuit, the teams were in a state of mismanagement and confusion in their initial years. Swindlers not only lured young fringe cricketers but also convinced a few officials to become a part of the scam.
Ajit Singh, who was then the head of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit, remembers how a few officials were questioned on the charges of corruption.
“The BCCI ACU doesn’t go beyond its scope, but whenever there was a genuine allegation, police complaints were filed since that was beyond our jurisdiction. As an ex-policeman, when one got credible information — like audio recordings of people claiming money for a place in the team — we passed it on to the police. During the investigations, some officials were also questioned, and one of the accused died before any action could be initiated against him,” Ajit, a former DGP of Rajasthan, says.
In addition to spots in State teams being offered up for sale, there was another kind of scam that emerged. Cricketers were being offered fake domicile certificates so they could be eligible to play for certain teams.
“We have received such allegations in the past and have now ensured that certificates are verified before allowing the players to be part of selection trials,” Geda says.
Taking cognisance of this problem, the Sikkim Cricket Association decided this year not to engage any ‘guest players’ for its senior team. The absence of guest players would kill two birds with one stone, facilitating exposure to home-grown talents and keeping away scamsters. Even the NorthEast zone team that will participate in the Duleep Trophy this season has 15 home-grown cricketers.
“The whole idea behind having guest players was to ensure that our players get mentoring and guidance. When that did not happen, we decided to trust our local players and ensure that we do not encourage any guest players. That way we can also minimise these fraudulent practices. We have been very firm about it,” explains Sikkim Cricket Association president Lobzang Tenzing.
Tenzing, who served as the team manager for India’s national team in this year’s U-19 World Cup in the West Indies, has convinced his colleagues from other States to take these matters seriously.
“If we have to stop corruption, we have to be vigilant and that’s something we have tried doing in Sikkim. Every time we have received a complaint, we have immediately informed the concerned authorities and firmed up internal investigation. That has helped us to keep things under control,” Tenzing says.
The Meghalaya Cricket Association is following in Sikkim’s footsteps. Its senior team has three guest players, but its age-group sides and the women’s team feature only local players.
“There was a time when people would come all the way from Delhi, Mumbai and southern India to try their luck in NortheEst teams. But slowly we have been able to develop infrastructure and invest in our local players and the results are showing,” Gideon Kharkhangor, the secretary of Meghalaya Cricket Association, says.
Meghalaya has a strong cricketing culture and the sport is as popular as football in the State. “With the support of the BCCI, we have been able to improve immensely and working together, we will be able to ensure free and fair cricket across the zone,” Kharkhangor adds.
Help and guidance
In its last Annual General Meeting in Kolkata, the BCCI granted ₹10 crore to each of the NorthEast teams to develop their infrastructure. Over the last few months, the BCCI has made it a point to conduct camps with players from the NorthEast and also educate the officials on how to stay away from fraudulent activities.
The BCCI’s ACU has also been active.
“Whenever we have received a complaint, the ACU has ensured that it looks into the matter and provides the State associations with needful guidance. And we will continue to help them,” ACU chief Shabir Hussein Shekhadam Khandwawala says.
“The Board has a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and we also follow that. Whenever there is a complaint, we take it very seriously…”