This is an excerpt from one of Prem Panicker’s recent blog posts about corruption in cricket.
This is a true story [and knowing you guys, the comments field will fill up with speculation on the identity of the central characters. Speculate all you like, I’m not telling]:
There was once an opening batsman known as much for his impeccable technique as for his preternatural sense of the ebbs and flows, the rhythms, of Test cricket. The way he constructed an innings was both masterclass and template: the early watchfulness, the constant use of the well placed single to get away from strike and go to the other end, from where he could observe the behavior of pitch and bowler, the imperceptible change of gears and then, as the lunch interval loomed, the gradual down-shifting of gears as commentators marveled: ‘He is pulling down the shutters… he knows it is important not to give away his wicket just before the break… the onus is on him to return after the break and build his innings all over again… the man is a master of focus…’
I followed along, on radio first and later, on television, and I marveled along with the commentators, the experts. And then, years later, I heard a story — of how, when the toss went the way of his team and this opener went out to bat on the first day of a Test, a close relative would bet with not one, but several, bookies, about whether the batsman would get to 50 before lunch. Or not. ‘So he would get to 45 or so, and there would be 20 minutes to go before lunch, and he would defend like hell, and all these experts would talk about how he is downing shutters for lunch when the fact was, there was a lot of money riding on his not getting 50 before the break,’ is a paraphrase of what one of the bookies who suffered from such well-placed bets said.
Prem makes it clear that he has no intentions of revealing the identity of the person. However, he drops enough hints about who the person might be. The only big assumption required is that he is talking about an Indian cricketer. Assuming that, I am fairly certain that the cricketer he is talking about is Sunil Gavaskar. Gavaskar used to open and he fits the description Prem provides very well. Also, Prem alludes to the fact that he initially followed the games on radio and then on television which matches the age in which Sunil played.
Prem Panicker has a lot of credibility among cricket writers. He’s done a lot of reporting and has a lot of contacts in the cricket fraternity. I am inclined to believe that his heart is on the right side in matters cricket related. If his allegation is true and my deduction that he is talking about Sunil Gavaskar is true, then all cricket fans should be shattered. For Mohammed Azharuddin to indulge in match fixing is one thing. For a legend of the game like Sunil Gavaskar to do it is a completely different thing altogether! I pray to God this isn’t true. The sad thing is: I will never know!