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May 22, 2000

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MATCH-FIXING
Risky Single

For someone who wanted to expose the rot in the system, Manoj Prabhakar has a lot to answer to.

By Sayantan Chakravarty

India Today issue dated May 22, 2000You tell Manoj Prabhakar that bookies in Delhi refer to him as the The Original One, the "real McCoy", and he forgets to fume. There is no clenching of jaws or fists, no flash of pain across the face, not even a twitch of the eyebrow. Just a shrug and a smile.

TEST OF A CRICKETER?
Prabhakar's fellow players are unwilling to trust him.
He has professed his willingness to talk to the CBI, but "he is evasive", say the investigators.
Sports promoters accuse him of being greedy.
His office was burgled in 1998. Only bookies looking for papers, believe policemen.
His gymnasium was sealed for violating building byelaws.

"Arre aap to mujhe bhi lapet loge in sub mein (You're dragging me into this crowd)," he smiles. Today not one cricketer is willing to defend the man who represented India in 39 Tests and 130 one-dayers. "Perhaps the good is overshadowed by his shady character," says a fellow cricketer. His cricketer friends tell you -- "off the record, strictly" -- that it's better to dine with the enemy than with Prabhakar. "Look what he's done to Kapil ..."

Prabhakar wanted to be remembered as the man who dared to shout from the roof-tops that not all was right in the dressing room. But now nobody believes him. Not even the bookies. They say they are wondering when he'll make his visit to the CBI to name the man who offered him Rs 25 lakh to underperform in the 1994 Singer Cup in Colombo. "We are waiting for him, but he is evasive," CBI officers tell you.

This after he promised Union Home Minister L.K. Advani that he would spill the beans if provided protection. He has been; carbine-toting constables now guard him round the clock. So the silence is mysterious.

Strange man, Prabhakar, for a wannabe politician (remember his bid to become an MP in 1996?). These days he shrinks from public glare. He sits on the other side of a glass cabin at his south Delhi office -- he is managing director of Naturence, a cosmetic firm -- but refuses to invite this reporter inside.

nri Pappu Bhutani, vice-president of the Hong Kong Cricket Association, says that in Prabhakar runs a vengeful streak that has surfaced today. Over lunch at Holiday Inn, Bangkok in April 1993, Prabhakar tells Bhutani that "one day he would teach Kapil Dev a lesson." He knows Bhutani is unhappy with Kapil who hasn't turned up for his six-a-side tournament. And people say that Prabhakar runs after lucre; his price for interviews or for attending star nites is exorbitant. As Bhutani was to find out. "I invited him for a six-a-side tournament after the 1996 World Cup. He wasn't even in the Indian side but demanded $20,000. I said no."

Holding grudges isn't so bad. But take this. In 1994 in the Kanpur one-dayer against West Indies, chasing 257, India is competitively placed at 195 for 5 in the 42nd over. Suddenly Prabhakar and Nayan Mongia apply the brakes. Just 16 runs come thereafter. Prabhakar nonchalantly explains to selection committee chairman Gundappa Vishwanath that there weren't "instructions from the dressing room to speed things up". Mongia has a lamer excuse: "Manoj told me that we would not get the runs, so we decided to ensure he got his century." He got 102.

Did he throw the match deliberately? "He did," says Ravinder Chadha, a current selector. Prabhakar's bowling was atrocious, he went for 50 in the six overs he bowled. Both were suspended. "They deserved life bans," says Chadha.

Not all is well at work and home. Prabhakar's office was mysteriously burgled in December 1998. Policemen believe that bookies were looking for documents, prepared during the Coca- Cola Champions Trophy in November that year. His gymnasium in Greater Kailash was sealed 45 days ago because it violated various municipal byelaws.

The past is catching up with Manoj Prabhakar.

 

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