Ranji Trophy debutants from Northeast attract undesirable elements 

After attempts of bribery, Sikkim Cricket Association has lodged a complaint to the BCCI's Anti-Corruption Unit.

Sikkim players during a trial camp at the Rangpo Mining Ground on Monday.   -  Shayan Acharya

Token money le lo Sir. Achha player hain, 5-6 lakh dila dunga…” 

(Take the token money, sir. He is a good player. I will get you Rs. 5-6 lakh...)

A few days back when Roshan Prasad, one of the office staff of the Sikkim Cricket Association, received such a message from an unknown number, he was initially not sure what it meant. Soon after the message, there came a WhatsApp call from the person, introducing himself as Sooraj Singh, a cricketer from Uttar Pradesh.

The cricketer lobbied for someone else — whose name wasn’t disclosed — for a berth in the Sikkim Ranji team and even offered a ‘token fee’ of Rs. 5-6 lakhs to the official if the deal was sealed. But Prasad turned down the proposal and decided to report to his seniors at the association. Sikkim and eight other teams are making their Ranji debut this season.

Based on Prasad’s version, the SCA has formally lodged a complaint to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s Anti-Corruption Unit. In the letter sent last week — which Sportstar has seen— the association has requested the ACU to investigate the matter of ‘bribery’.

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Not just that. The association chief, Lobzang Tenzing, has also informed the BCCI top bosses about how some people were advertising on social media asking players to get in touch with them if they wanted to play for Sikkim and a couple of other northeast states. “This happened soon after the BCCI announced that we will be playing in the Ranji Trophy this year. Some people created a group on Facebook and even asked young cricketers to get in touch with them and even charged money. That was dangerous for our cricketers,” Tenzing said. After the association complained to the Board and even informed the local administration about it, the page was deactivated from Facebook. Even the numbers provided on the pages have been disconnected, but the association fears that they may still be active in a different name.

Prasad, who was approached by Sooraj Singh, said: “Since I also handle the social media wing of the association, my contact number is given in most of the platforms. So, I get a lot of calls from various people, but this one was quite suspicious. One could sense that things were not right.

“I clearly told him that this is not acceptable, and we will have to take action. Even after that, he texted saying, ‘kuchh toh kar do sir’ (Please do something, sir). But, I decided to inform the president,” Prasad said.

The attempt of ‘bribery’ has forced the association to take to social media and inform the cricketers and the local support staff that none of the ‘berths are up for sale’.

“But even then, the officials are receiving calls and WhatsApp messages from various players that they are willing to pay huge money to get picked. Initially, we tried ignoring the calls, but now, things have gone out of hand. So, we have informed the ACU about the whole thing. We are also requesting the young cricketers and the selectors to stay away from all traps,” Tenzing said.

To avoid any controversies, the association has decided not to select any outstation players for the Ranji Trophy. At the Annual General meeting on Sunday, the members decided that in the current scenario, it will be ideal not to engage any professional players.

The selection trials were held at the Rango Mining ground in Sikkim.   -  Shayan Acharya

 

Asked for a reaction, the BCCI officials chose not to comment, but insisted that the ACU ‘will have a clearer picture’. When contacted by this publication, ACU chief, Ajit Singh, said on Monday that the unit will look into such matters on a priority basis. “We will definitely take up such matters very seriously. But there are also a few areas where the police need to act, so we will see that and decide the future course of action,” Singh, a former top cop in Rajasthan, said.

RELATED | NE clampdown: BCCI ACU to keep an eye on inter-state transfers

With nine new teams in the Ranji mix, even the ACU is keeping a close tab on the activities. “We are in touch with the associations. We will again visit all the new teams and interact with all the players, coaches and the support staff and inform them about the do's and don’ts and alert them about the consequences,” Singh said.

However, after the Sikkim association reported the matter to the ACU, Sooraj Singh has gone off the radar. While his mobile numbers have been temporarily disconnected, his social media accounts have also been deactivated. Efforts of reaching out to him too failed as none of the players in his home state, Uttar Pradesh, could tell his whereabouts. However, he doesn’t have much credential as a player. The 30-something cricketer hasn’t played Ranji Trophy and has been restricted to local cricket.

On guard now, the Sikkim association has not disclosed the names of the four selectors. Even as the four wise men were present for the selection trials at the Rangpo Mining Grounds on Monday — which was attended by around 90 cricketers — the association ensured that the players who had come for the trials didn’t know who the selectors were.

“This has been done deliberately to avoid any attempt at corruption. There have been touts who try to influence the selectors. We cannot take a chance,” Tenzing said.