A few months after taking over as general manager of the International Cricket Council’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), Alex Marshall pronounced, “In most parts of the world it is mostly corrupt Indian bookies.” What Marshall said was nothing new. For more than one and a half decades, Indian bookies and match-fixers have acquired a global notoriety for their extensive network that has repeatedly beaten the surveillance systems put in place.
In the past five years, the ICC’s anti-corruption tribunal has banned four international players—Heath Streak, Brendan Taylor, Shakib Al Hasan and Nuwan Zoysa—who were found to be in touch with or came in contact with bookies for the purpose of fixing matches. The ACU’s investigation concluded that Indian bookies in the guise of businessmen corrupted them or were instrumental in it.
Over the past year, the ICC initiated 113 investigations, which is more than double compared to the previous year’s tally of 50. The ACU can give itself a pat on the back, counting the number of investigations it has conducted successfully. But the factsheets and verdicts in these corruption cases raise questions about the ACU’s work ethics that have allowed bookies to operate freely around the world. These investigations also indicate that the ACU has little clue of how to eradicate the menace of match-fixing.
India is the financial backbone of international cricket. It is this outsized financial muscle of Indian cricket that has attracted the shadiest of characters into its extended circle of influence. Almost every ACU investigation suggests this. Ideally, the ACU should have built a strong team of investigators who are natives of the region, know the language and geography, and have good investigative credentials. Instead, the ACU currently has four anti-corruption officers from England, including Marshall himself, two from New Zealand and one is an Australian of Thai origin. It has just two ‘temporary’ staffers from India and Pakistan, who play a limited role in the ACU and its investigations.
Interestingly, Marshall is also the HR head of the ICC. “All recruitment at the ICC, including within the Integrity Unit, is coordinated and overseen by the ICC HR department,” an ICC spokesperson told Tatsat Chronicle. Explaining the recruitment process, the spokesperson said, “An HR manager advertises positions and shortlists the candidates before conducting the interview. The HR manager is also part of the final interview panel, which includes at least two people.” The spokesperson did not respond to the question regarding the number of native Indian or South Asian investigators engaged by the ACU, given that this region has been identified as the hotspot of match-fixing.
Before Marshall joined the ACU in 2018, many Indian investigators served as permanent members in the unit. For reasons best known to the ICC, it presented one Sunny Oberoi as a Hindi-speaking Indian investigator. But the fact is that Oberoi is British-born and has a British passport, though his family has roots in India. During the course of communication with the ICC for this article, it disingenuously tried to present Oberoi as an Indian investigator despite his not having any country-specific or region-specific investigative credentials. It also refused to reveal when and how many times advertisements for recruiting investigators from this region were released in the past few years. It also did not answer as to how many Indians have applied for any such post in the past in response to the advertisements. These specific questions, sent to the ICC spokesperson in an email, were left unanswered.
The outsized financial muscle of Indian cricket has attracted the shadiest of characters into its extended circle of influence
“Anti-corruption investigations take place throughout the world. Recent cases resulting in people being charged with breaching the ICC’s anti-corruption code come from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe,” the ICC stated in its response. “Our current investigations are based in mainland Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. A common theme from these investigations is a link to the unregulated betting markets in the sub-continent.”
However, the sanctions and tribunal decisions against the four international players in recent years tell a different story. Taylor, the former Zimbabwean international, was banned from all forms of cricket for three and a half years in January 2022 for breaching the anti-corruption code after a two-year investigation.
“Mr Taylor reported an approach he had received from an Indian businessman, [Mr S], to the ACU the previous November. Following this report, the ACU opened an investigation into his potential corrupt conduct under the Code, and as part of that investigation Mr Taylor was interviewed by the ACU on 1 and 2 April, 17 August, and 8 December 2020. Mr Taylor told [Mr S] that ‘if there’s any skullduggery, or dodginess, one, I’m not flying’, to which [Mr S] responded ‘no, we don’t work like that. We are legitimate people.’ During the trip, [Mr S] gave Mr Taylor a new Samsung S10 phone as his own phone was ‘busted up’, some rupees to spend while Mr Taylor was in India, and [Mr S] also paid for some new clothes for Mr Taylor.”
Despite having very strong pieces of evidence against Taylor, the ACU took two years to investigate and also failed to say what happened to ‘Mr S’, the Indian businessman, in its report. Only Marshall and his band of investigators know. Another former Zimbabwe international cricketer and ex-captain, Heath Streak, was handed an eight-year ban by the ICC in 2021 for his involvement with bookies and match-fixing.
According to the ACU fact file, “In September 2017, Mr Streak began a WhatsApp conversation with an Indian gentleman, Mr X, who said ‘he was interested in organising a league in Zimbabwe’ and asked Mr Streak if he would be interested ‘as he could earn some good money from it’. During these discussions, Mr X made it clear to Mr Streak that he was involved in betting on cricket, and also requested details of Mr Streak’s bank account outside Zimbabwe, which Mr Streak provided. Mr Streak also made it clear in these discussions that he wanted to establish aT20 League in Zimbabwe and was passionate about furthering cricket in Zimbabwe.”
It has been observed that in most cases, cricketers who were approached by bookies reported it to the ICC only after their prospective deals collapsed. The ACU, ironically, never investigated the extent to which such bookies have burrowed into the cricketing ecosystem. All ACU investigations revolve around information shared by the targeted players. None of the verdicts or investigations suggests that ACU investigators detected corruption or approaches on its own. This is a telling shortcoming of the ACU’s investigative capabilities. “With regard to illegal betting syndicates, this is a matter for law enforcement within the country concerned,” the ICC said in its response. “The ICC’s ACU investigates breaches of the Anti-Corruption Code. The ACU has a strong working relationship with the Interpol and law enforcement agencies in the countries where it operates.”
Some of the ACU investigation reports reveal a considerable level of helplessness. The ACU banned one Mehar Chhayakar for 14 years in October 2022 for his attempts to fix aspects of matches in the Zimbabwe-UAE Test series in April 2019 and some matches in the GT20 league in Canada in 2019. He was also indicted for “enticing, inducing and/or soliciting other participants to become involved in his attempts to fix”.
According to the ACU’s report on this particular case, “Mr Chhayakar attempted to contrive to fix aspects of the Zimbabwe v UAE series in April 2019 or was party to an effort to try and fix aspects of the Zimbabwe series (when in April 2019 he approached Qadeer Khan and offered him AED 60-70,000 to concede 70 runs in a match in the series and, via Mr Qadeer, approached Mr Shabbir (both UAE players).”
The report also indicates that a senior manager of the ACU, sitting in the Dubai office, kept sending messages to Chhayakar and his mother living in India for an ‘interview’ through WhatsApp. It presented the two blue ticks as evidence of delivery of its ‘interview’ request. “On 6 April 2022, SR (Steven Richardson, Senior Manager, ACU Operations) also sent a WhatsApp message to the telephone number – [redacted] of Mr Chhayakar’s mother (with whom the ACU had communicated previously in order to ensure that the ACU’s communications were brought to Mr Chhayakar’s attention). While the message was delivered and read (evidenced by the two blue ticks on the WhatsApp message), SR received no response to that message either.” It seems that the ACU believes that mere delivery of messages is coercive enough to force a bookie to join the investigation.
It has been observed that in most cases, cricketers who were approached by bookies reported it to the ICC only after their prospective deals collapsed
For the past two months, Tatsat Chronicle has been persistently sending queries to the ICC to acquire a better understanding of the functioning and policies of the ACU. After a long silence, the ICC’s response on email was, “We suggest setting up an interview with Mr Alex Marshall.” Following that, a long questionnaire was emailed to the ICC for Marshall’s responses, but to no avail.
The 2021-22 ICC Annual Report paints a grim picture regarding the scourge of match-fixing. According to it, 113 investigations were initiated across Full Member and Associate Member countries. During this period, three charges were placed against players under the Anti-Corruption Code: the UAE’s Ghulam Shabber, the West Indies’ Marlon Samuels, and Zimbabwe’s Taylor, who was charged with breaching the Anti-Corruption Code and was also sanctioned under the ICC Anti-Doping Code.
It further reads: “A total of seven cases were concluded between June 2021 and May 2022. Sanctions were agreed in the cases of two players, and Taylor. Five cases were heard by an independent tribunal, resulting in sanctions for two former Sri Lankan players, Avishka Gunawardene and Nuwan Zoysa; one Sri Lankan performance analyst; two UAE players, Amir Hayat and Ashfaq Ahmed; and Sanath Jayasuriya.” The former Sri Lankan captain was banned for two years after admitting to evidence tampering that was demanded by the ICC.
Given the high-profile current or former cricketers who were approached by the bookies, it appears that the latter have nothing to fear and can operate freely. Equally, it seems certain that as long as the ACU functions as it has for the past few years, cricket’s underbelly will get dirtier and darker.
Jasvinder Sidhu is a freelance investigative journalist who worked for newspapers like The Greater Kashmir, Amar Ujala and The Hindustan Times