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Why this wide ball?

After his wife’s sensational allegations, Modh Shami faces a probe by BCCi’s anti-corruption unit. But does it have any teeth?

The Indian cricket board has to be complimented for maintaining a very straightforward stance when it comes to dealing with allegations of wrongdoing by any particular player. Be it the crisis of 1999 that erupted after the Hansie Cronje episode or the later ones when speedster S Sreesanth along with few of his other team-mates were caught by Delhi Police in 2013, BCCI has wasted no time to disown them and let them face the consequences on their own.

But Mohammed Shami’s case is different.

The speedster has been India’s most successful and complete bowler in the recent past. His ability to bowl fast and accurately has made him a coveted member of the team. But whether or not he was involved in match-fixing is something that has never been debated in the open until his wife Hasin Jahan came out in public and alleged that he clandestinely met a Pakistani lady in Dubai, and also took money from London-based businessman Mohammed Bhai.

BCCI, now under the supervision of Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, was quick enough to jump the gun and hold back Shami’s central contract to save itself from any blushes if he proves to be guilty.

Fair enough… No one protested at the decision taken by former CAG and now COA’s chief Vinod Rai and Co. They were clearly unsure about the nature of match-fixing allegations levelled against him by his wife.

A week has passed after that but BCCI’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) has not felt it necessary to pro-actively pursue allegations of such a serious nature. And on Wednesday, when COA finally realised its mistake, it committed yet another blunder by officially directing ACSU chief Neeraj Kumar to probe “three specific allegations”.

The email which was sent to Kumar was also marked to not just the office-bearers of the Board but also to CEO Rahul Johri and even CFO Santosh Rangnekar, apart from the two legal advisers. This has raised questions about how there could be a fair probe by ACSU after COA has compromised with “element of surprise” which is essential while investigating any serious charges.

“Please investigate the above assertions/ allegations under the BCCI Anti-Corruption Code and submit a report to the COA with your findings as to whether there is any basis to proceed further in terms thereof. The investigation should cover (i) the identity and antecedents of “Mohammad Bhai” and “Alishba”; (ii) whether any money was in fact sent by the said Mohammad Bhai through the said Alishba to Md Shami; and (iii) if yes, the purpose for which the said money was received by Md Shami,” states COA’s letter.

The question now that some BCCI office-bearers are raising that what was the necessity to mark email of such sensitive nature to “anyone and everyone in the Board”?

No legal authority
To understand the legalities, one must be clear how the ACSU works. One has to know that it has no legal powers to investigate any case under any jurisdiction. It can only rely on local police —Kolkata police, Dubai police or Pakistani probe agencies in this matter or various government investigation agencies. By keeping quiet for a week (since contracts were awarded) and now asking ACSU publicly to submit a report on Shami’s relations with a Pakistani woman and London’s Mohammed, COA has only hampered the probe.

BCCI responded to Kolkata police’s query about Shami’s whereabouts after the recent South Africa series, confirming that the cricketer was in Dubai for two days in February. The question is: Can they go there and get evidence to conclude the case?
Or can they ask Pakistan for visas to go and grill the model named by Shami’s wife?
The answer to both the questions is ‘no’.

It must be mentioned here that BCCI has not specified whether Shami’s tour to Dubai was sponsored by it or a personal tour. He left SA because he was not part of the one-day team after the Test series.

On the other hand, Pakistani woman Alishba also admitted meeting Shami in Dubai, but refuted any monetary dealings with him, as claimed by his wife Hasin Jahan. “Yes, I met him. I am a frequent flyer to Dubai because my sister stays in Sharjah. As a person, I really like Shami. As any fan that has idolised a celebrity, they always dream of meeting their idol. I had the desire to meet him (Shami) like any other fan would want to, which I don’t think is a big deal,” is how Alishba has been quoted by a newspaper there.

What next?
The big question now is that what is left for ACSU to investigate and who will help Neeraj Kumar and Co in its investigation?
For the record, BCCI has always maintained that it has its own mechanism like WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) or any international sports body kind of investigating authorities to ensure fair play in cricket.

The COA now needs to answer three important questions…

1. Has there been an instance till date where WADA has revealed its plan to test any individual athlete in advance?

2. Has COA not ensured that the individuals under probe will now have enough time to evade the ACSU after bringing the probe in public domain?

3. And by instructing the ACSU to limit investigation into three specific points, how do Vinod Rai & Co expect in-house investigators to go and question individuals from Pakistan or England?

There can just be one conclusion now: that ACSU will have no other option but to rely on Hasin Jahan’s testimony. How seriously can one take her allegations of domestic abuse, harassment and match-fixing aired during taped phone conversations between the couple? Perhaps only time will tell.

Last but not the least is that ACSU chief Kumar will no more be with BCCI as full-time employee post March 31 as the new officer has already been appointed. Kumar would continue to work as consultant till the completion Indian Premier League.

ACSU’s success now only depend upon whether any individual, on his/her own, can hand over clinching evidence to either nail or let off Shami in the coming days.

Till then, ‘happy investigation’!