The game was not always the winner

Abhijit Kale comes out after appearing before the D. V. Subba Rao commission. Earlier, the selectors Kiran More and Pranob Roy had lodged a complaint with the Board of Control for Cricket in India alleging that the Maharashtra cricketer and former India ODI player, Kale, had approached them in a bid to buy his place in the Indian team. — Pic. C. V. SUBRAHMANYAM-

This was a year when controversies were common in the cricketing world. Even the biggest and the mightiest fell from grace, writes S. DINAKAR.

There was a sense of stillness on the ground, and with the stands empty, the huge concrete structures at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium seemed even bigger.

It was a typically hot afternoon in Chennai, and one of Tamil Nadu's most respected first class cricketers Abdul Jabbar was reflecting on the era gone by.

"Those days will never come back. They are gone, forever," said a misty-eyed Jabbar, and he was talking about a period when cricket was less of an industry and more of a game that he loved so passionately.

Times have changed and this is the era of mega bucks and multi-crore rupee endorsements. With so much money floating around, can corruption be far behind?

The match-fixing scandal rocked world of cricket in 2000, and it was clear that the game would never be the same again. Those white flannels did not appear so white anymore.

Indeed, cricket had been smeared by dirt, and when la affaire Abhijit Kale surfaced, the game's image suffered another blow.

This was a controversy that arrived like a bolt from the blue. Days after the selection of the Test squad for the tour of Australia in Hyderabad on November 15, came the news that two selectors Kiran More (West Zone) and Pranob Roy (East) had lodged a complaint with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) alleging that Maharashtra cricketer and former India ODI player Abhijit Kale had approached them in a bid to buy his place in the Indian team.

According to the selectors, the 30-year-old Kale had offered them Rs. 10 lakhs each in return for a berth in the Indian squad. For the BCCI, the scandal could not have surfaced at a worse time.

Kale had been a prolific scorer for Maharashtra and the West Zone in the middle-order, had a century in a tour game against the visiting Englishmen in Jaipur, 2001, and made runs on the India `A' tours of South Africa and the West Indies.

Superstar Sachin Tendulkar faced a barrage of criticism, after the Government waived Rs. 1.13 crores import duty on a Ferrari worth Rs. 75 lakhs (approx.). Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat gifted the car to Tendulkar after the Indian maestro had equalled Sir Donald Bradman's record of 29 Test centuries. -- Pic. DADSWELL/GETTY IMAGES-

He was even picked in the Indian squad - when several stars had pulled out — for the TVS ODI tri-series in Dhaka that followed the World Cup. Kale got a game against Bangladesh, and then came the off-season, with the Indian team enjoying a well-deserved break.

The two selectors said that Kale called them up on their mobile phones from May onwards, in an effort to bribe them. Subsequently, Kale's mother, allegedly, travelled to Varodra to have a meeting with More.

However, several questions begged an answer. If the offer was first made in May, why did the selectors take so long to report the incident to the BCCI? And how could someone like Kale, with a middle-class background, raise Rs. 20 lakhs.

The controversy opened a can of worms too with Andhra cricketer Venka Pratap casting aspersions over the selection of Noel David, a bits and pieces cricketer from Hyderabad, as the replacement for the injured paceman Javagal Srinath during India's tour of the Caribbean in 1997. The role of the two selectors from that panel, Shivlal Yadav and Sambaran Banerjee, also came under a cloud. There were also allegations of foul play by the selectors at the junior level.

Returning to the Kale episode, several theories were put forward. Among them was that he was being sponsored by the betting mafia that wanted to gain inside information. Another possibility was that the selectors, after taking the money from Kale, had panicked, fearing a reaction from the cricketer, when they could not get the job done.

The BCCI after an emergency meeting suspended Kale, and ordered an interim probe under D. V. Subba Rao, the Andhra-based chairman of the Bar Council.

The Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) wanted the role of the two selectors to be investigated. Kale, meanwhile, took legal action, and for a brief period even managed to get the suspension lifted by a court.

However, Subba Rao found enough prima facie evidence against Kale to recommend a wider probe into the affair. Subsequently, the BCCI appointed a three-member panel headed by its president Jagmohan Dalmiya - the other two are vice-presidents Kamal Morarka and Ranbir Singh Mahendra — to hand out a verdict that will be final. Kale's future hangs in the balance.

This was indeed a year, when controversies were not at a premium in the cricketing world. Even the biggest and the mightiest fell from grace.

Shane Warne, arguably the greatest leg-spinner ever, made a sorry exit from South Africa before the start of the World Cup, when he tested positive for a banned diuretic.

The Aussie, who had lost 25 pounds in the last 12 months, confessed to consuming a diuretic on the insistence of his mother; diuretics are banned since they can be used as masking agents for performance enhancing drugs.

The Australian Cricket Board, swung into action quickly, banning Warne from all forms for cricket for a year. The champion bowler had more trouble awaiting him during the year, when a South African nurse, Helen Cohan Alon, accused him of making obscene telephone calls. Sex scandals are nothing new to Warne, however, another one of them was the last thing he needed during a year when things had gone horribly wrong for him.

The World Cup witnessed some wonderful cricket, however disputes over guarantee money and the venues generated much heat. England and New Zealand refused to play in Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively due to political and security reasons and that was followed by disputes over payments.

The major battle was between the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the BCCI, after the ICC held back India's share of $ 6.5 million for participation in the World Cup. Several of the Indian cricketers had lucrative personal endorsements and this led to differences over contract with the World Cup sponsors.

In a compromise hammered out at the last moment, the cricketers signed amended player terms in the ICC contract to take part, but several unanswered questions remained.

The Global Cricket Corporation (GCC), the marketing agent of the World Cup until 2007, claimed damages worth $ 47 million from the ICC, and that was a sign of events to come. The GCC argued that the Indian cricketers had endorsed products that clashed with those from the official sponsors of the World Cup.

The ICC, facing legal action from the GCC, and heavy losses, decided to hold on to the guarantee money until a settlement was reached. The BCCI said it would appoint appropriate agencies to look into the claims made by the GCC, and its marketing arm the World Sport Nimbus (WSN).

There was a general agreement between the ICC and the BCCI that the GCC was being unrealistic in its demands, however, the two could not reach a settlement even during the November meeting of the ICC Executive Board in Barbados.

The ICC offered to release the money only if some conditions that included an unconditional and irrevocable legal undertaking and a bank guarantee to pay the money back if required. It also said that the ICC's independent lawyers, auditors and advisors would have to agree on the timing of the release of the money and the actual amount.

An amount of $3.5 million due to England was withheld by the ICC for the side's refusal to play in Zimbabwe. New Zealand, which said `no' to playing in Kenya missed out on $2.5 million, at least till the time of writing.

Shane Warne, arguably the greatest leg-spinner ever, made a sorry exit from South Africa before the start of the World Cup, when he tested positive for a banned diuretic. -- Pic. GETTY IMAGES-

Back home, following his heroic in the World Cup, Tendulkar drove right into the eye of a storm when he turned the ignition keys of his new Ferrari on August 9.

The batting maestro received a Rs. 1.13 crores import duty waiver on a Ferrari worth Rs. 75 lakhs (approx.) from the government and found that a barrage of criticism awaited him.

The car was gifted to Tendulkar by Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat after the Indian maestro had equalled Sir Donald Bradman's record of 29 Test centuries. On Fiat's behalf, Formula One ace Michael Schumacher had presented the gleaming vehicle to Tendulkar at the famous English motor racing venue, Silverstone, in May 2002.

When the Ferrari 360 Modeno wound its way into India, the car and its celebrity owner made news. Public litigations cases were filed in the Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and the Chennai High Courts, on the grounds that there was no logic in the Government showing such leniency to Tendulkar vis a vis waiver of import duty.

The argument was that the car had not been won by Tendulkar representing India in a match or a tournament and the costly vehicle was only a gift by a company whose product Tendulkar had endorsed.

In "public interest," said the Government about its gesture towards Tendulkar, however, this did not prevent the Delhi High Court from issuing notices to Tendulkar and the Union Finance and Sports Ministries. Tendulkar said the controversy would not affect his cricket, while Fiat volunteered to pay the import duty.

Plenty of heat was generated on the field of play too with Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar being at the receiving end of the match referee. The Pakistani paceman found himself in serious trouble when he was pulled up by match referee Gundappa Viswanath for tampering with the ball during the tri-nation ODI tournament involving Pakistan, host Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

The umpires, Daryl Harper and Peter Manuel and third umpire Gamini Silva, had reported to Viswanath that Shoaib had breached law 42.3 of the game, that dealt with altering the condition of the ball. The Pakistani paceman was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and banned from two ODIs.

Later in the year, during the home series against the Proteas, Shoaib was pulled up by match referee Clive Lloyd for using foul language against South African tail-ender Paul Adams in the Lahore Test. The result? The Pakistani found himself out of a Test and two ODIs.

The tour of Pakistan by South Africa was an ill-tempered duel with Proteas' captain Graeme Smith and Andrew Hall finding themselves in a soup during the Lahore ODI. All-rounder Hall emerged the biggest loser, banished for two Tests and an ODI, effectively ruling him out of the rest of the tour.

Hall had been punished for deliberate physical contact and bringing the game into disrepute. Smith found himself out of one ODI for use of obscene language, while Pakistan's Yousuf Youhana, under scrutiny for unruly behaviour, escaped with a fine.

Shoaib Akhtar was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and banned from two ODIs after being found guilty of ball tampering during the tri-nation ODI tournament involving Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

In an earlier series in Pakistan, wicket-keeper Rashid Latif, leading the Pakistani side, was hauled by match referee Mike Procter for claiming and winning a caught behind shout, after the ball had touched the ground.

The incident occurred on the third day of the third Test between Pakistan and Bangladesh at Multan. Alok Kapali edged paceman Yasir Ali, and Latif after rolling over twice, appealed successfully for a catch. Television replays showed that Latif had grassed the ball when he tumbled the first time.

Procter was severe on Latif, banning him from five ODIs, although Latif said it had not been a deliberate act on his part. Subsequently, Latif's career went off the boil and he now finds himself out in the cold, with Moin Khan taking his place.

Not surprisingly, the Australians and sledging made the headlines. Glenn McGrath was involved in an ugly incident with Ramnaresh Sarwan during the Antgua Test, a match where Steve Waugh and Brian Lara were also involved in a war of words.

Legends such as Sunil Gavaskar called for strong measures to curb sledging, while some others like Australia's Dennis Lillee felt it was a part of the game. At the beginning of the home season, Aussie captain Steve Waugh urged his men to refrain from words of anger, and happily, the authorities concerned down under have taken steps to curb the menace.

The issue of `chucking' also grabbed a fair share of attention and West Indian paceman Jermaine Lawson found himself confined to the sidelines for suspect action after a seven-wicket innings haul in the Antigua Test against the Australians. There was increasing concern over the alarming nature of the problem, with several leading contemporary Test bowlers possessing doubtful action.

Games were won and lost in 2003, but the game was not always the winner.