If a nightmare you lived as an Indian cricket fan through is replayed once again on a screen, then you want to avoid it at all costs. But once Netflix unveiled its documentary 'Caught Out', based on the cricket match-fixing scandal back in 2000, then one had to see it to check just what they have touched upon.
As the subtitle of the documentary informs, it gets up close and personal with the dirt in the game uncovered back at the start of the 21st century in India. In that sense it focuses purely on that tumultuous year when everything about the game seemed to be a lie and made you question your undying love for a sport that hooked you to it since your early years.
That’s what happened to most around the time.
No New Revelations, Focus Mostly on Azhar
So, when the documentary came along, you wondered if you would be engulfed by those same thoughts once again. Unfortunately, the documentary falls flat on that count because there is nothing new in it that was not already known, especially for someone who had lived through it.
There were no new revelations, in fact surprisingly the documentary appeared to be a bit rushed in that sense as it moves quite swiftly in its timeline.
The focus appears to be just one guy, Mohammed Azharuddin, the former India captain and to some extent Manoj Prabhakar, a former all-rounder, apart from another former all-rounder Ajay Sharma.
The others in the story have been conveniently forgotten. It could also be a case where the others had to be omitted owing to paucity of time but you cannot really undo history by not mentioning that Ajay Jadeja, a former India all-rounder, had also been banned for five years for a similar charge alongside Azharuddin and Prabhakar.
There were a few others who were no longer associated with the Indian cricket squads in varying capacities because of a needle of suspicion. The basis for debarring these individuals was also some inputs provided both by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s own inquiry.
The entire documentary is based on the investigation of the CBI. But it completely omits the inquiry done by BCCI under RK Raghavan, a former CBI officer himself. The final ban on Azhar and others was based on this Raghavan report which was submitted to the BCCI, despite resistance from certain quarters.
Azhar did ultimately defend himself well in the court of law and his ban was lifted, but if you have to put the entire sequence of events right, then the BCCI enquiry should have been mentioned.
No Mention of Ajay Jadeja
The other important aspect is that of all the players banned, the only other person who was still actively involved in playing the sport was Jadeja, apart from Azhar. So, the whole act of completely missing out on mentioning Jadeja’s name or his ban was a bit baffling. There were press conferences held by Jadeja denying his involvement, but despite all that, he was still banned by the Board. The documentary should have at least mentioned his name once, because it was an event that did take place.
The entire documentary, one hour and 17 minutes long, appeared to be an honest attempt to re-look at the entire case which engulfed the whole sport, but frankly it deserved a bit more of a run-time.
They have used archival footage quite well and have done a good job in sourcing the same. But to sort of dismiss one country, India, as the only place where the players were involved was a bit unfair.
We could have hoped for a bit more from the makers in terms of trying to make people understand the difference between gambling, betting and fixing. Not every betting involves fixing, but all fixing is about betting. This is a dictum which could have been explained. The lack of clarity in the Indian legal system could have been explored. After building up the entire saga, the lack of legal support comes almost like an after-thought right at the end.
You have built up the entire case and then the fact that the ‘convicted’ players cannot be apprehended deserved a bit more air time, especially the whys and hows of it. But sadly, the makers just skim through this part.
The Real Beginnings of Match-Fixing in Cricket
The whole fixing saga was first reported back in 1979-80 when the toss in an India v Pakistan Test was the centre of attention. Then there were stray incidents of bets being placed by the likes of former Australian players the late Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee in the famous Botham Test of the 1981 Ashes. Some former Pakistan players also alleged fixing back in the 1980s.
It all exploded in the 1990s when a surfeit of ODI tournaments cropped up throughout the globe. The first real allegation came to the fore when former Australian players- the late Shane Warne and Tim May alleged that former Pakistan captain Salim Malik had offered money to underperform on the 1994-95 tour to the South Asian country.
Before that another late cricketer Dean Jones had also been under a cloud of suspicion for providing pitch and weather information to a bookie. On the 1998-99 tour to Pakistan the Australian players were also involved in an inquiry around fixing. Warne and Mark Waugh had also been fined in 1995 for providing information to a bookie.
To therefore assume that only Indian players were involved in the whole sordid saga is a fallacy and hence the decision to not bring to fore others named in the entire episode was not well thought out. The whole focus of the documentary is the CBI report and rightly so.
The famed Hansie Cronje case has been touched upon, but the reactions in South Africa when the story first broke out was not covered.
A late cricket journalist Trevor Chesterfield, was on air on an Indian news television station when they played out a recreation of the tapes on their bulletin. But no one bothered to inform Chesterfield that it is a recreation. Chesters, as he was widely known, heard that recreation and wrote a piece dismissing the entire accusation against Cronje. In the later years, Chesters realised his folly, but this one small aspect of how the Cronje case was received back in South Africa, also deserved a bit more. Till date that Cronje case, which began with all pomp and pageantry, has also not reached its desired conclusion. There were other South African cricketers named in the Cronje case as well, but sadly even that is omitted by the makers.
Pakistan Captain Latif's Allegations Against Indians in 1997
They do touch upon the 1997 investigation by journalist Anirudh Bahal. But what they forget to mention is that a former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif had that very year claimed involvement of four Indian cricketers in match-fixing in an investigation by Bahal himself.
The first time the names of Azhar and others surfaced was when India was on tour in Sri Lanka in 1997. That was an eminently forgettable tour where Sri Lanka piled up 952 for six, the highest-ever team score in an innings in Test cricket. But the whole tour can only be remembered for the commotion started by a Latif interview where he alleged involvement of certain Indian players.
If you are looking at fixing in India back in 2000 just around what happened that year it is a bit unfair. You need to look at every aspect before you bring up the entire fixing saga of 2000 which was the sort of culmination of the entire episode.
The one man who has been widely presented in the documentary; former CBI investigator Ravi Sawani also went onto head the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) and was in charge till 2011. This has been completely ignored in the documentary, though they do mention his stint in a similar role with the BCCI.
All in all, the documentary is a good reminder of what actually happened in a dark year for cricket as a sport for all those who did not live through it. But if you really want to look back at those dark times, there are multiple other long form content available for viewing on other platforms.
For newer generations though it could well be an education about what happened, almost like a quick recap of the times gone by. But if you are one from the Silent/Boomer/Gen X/Millennial era then you may feel like you have already seen it all.
(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC, and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, a professor and cricket TV commentator.)