The spectre of corruption returned to haunt Indian cricket with the BCCI suspending Pune stadium's pitch curator just hours before the second India-New Zealand ODI today after he consented to tampering with the track in a TV sting operation.
In the sting operation by India Today TV, curator Pandurang Salgaoncar was seen and heard speaking to an undercover reporter, who posed as a bookie, while standing on the pitch of the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium.
However, today's match, second of a three-game series, went ahead as scheduled after an ICC observer approved the track following an inspection. Maharashtra Cricket Association President Abhay Apte made the announcement barely half an hour before the toss.
The 68-year-old Salgaoncar was seen agreeing to tamper with the pitch to suit the requirements put forth by the reporter. India Today TV said the video was shot last evening. It is not clear how Salgaoncar, a former pacer and one-time India prospect, could have tweaked the pitch with just a few hours to go before the match.
"Pandurang Salgaoncar has been suspended from the Maharashtra Cricket Association's curator's post with immediate effect," BCCI acting Secretary Amitabh Chaudhary told PTI.
"The MCA has also suspended Salgaoncar from all other positions in the association. An inquiry Commission will also be constituted by MCA. At BCCI, we reiterate that we have zero tolerance towards any corrupt activity," he added.
This was reiterated in a statement issued later by the BCCI in which Ramesh Mhamunkar was named the point person for the centre wicket and the field of play for the second ODI between India and New Zealand.
Committee Of Administrators (COA) chief Vinod Rai, on the other hand, defended the BCCI's anti-corruption unit, saying a three-member team can only do as much.
"ACU (headed by former cop Neeraj Kumar) has only three people so they can't be everywhere," Rai said.
In the BCCI statement, Rai added: "We are looking into the issue and in contact with the concerned officials. We have asked for a detailed report and will act upon it accordingly."
What has left senior BCCI officials baffled is that Salgaoncar allowed a self-confessed bookie to accompany him to the main match pitch. Under BCCI rules no unaccredited persons, including journalists, are allowed near the pitch.
"The BCCI Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) under Neeraj Kumar will have some answering to do. Here a random man comes, doesn't have an all-access area pass and is taken to the main pitch by the curator," a BCCI official said.
Asked if the ACU unit should be answerable as to how an outsider got access to the pitch, Chaudhary said, "...everyone associated with the ACU would be answerable. In any case, a very select few have access to the centre of the pitch."
When contacted, BCCI acting President C K Khanna said he is writing a mail to Kumar so that his team gives an update on the incident.
"It's a pity that both former MCA President Ajay Shirke and current president Abhay Apte had helped Salgaoncar have a career after retirement. He gets Rs 65,000 salary per month from the MCA and also a BCCI pension. He is among BCCI's independent curators. We are feeling bad for both Abhay and Ajay. Salgaoncar let them down badly," added an official.
Salgaoncar, a former Maharashtra speedster, was considered a genuine India prospect in early and mid-'70s.
He toured with the Indian team for an unofficial series against Sri Lanka back in 1974. Sunil Gavaskar's autobiography 'Sunny Days' mention him as being a genuine prospect who was unlucky not to don national colours.
The former pacer took 214 wickets in 63 first-class games.
The Pune pitch had been under the spotlight earlier as well. It had been rated poor by the ICC after an India- Australia Test match in February.
The Australians had hammered India by 333 runs on a turner where the home team was bowled out for 105 and 107 in two innings. The game itself had ended inside three days.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly also expressed his shock.
"I don't know how he can tweak the pitch in one day and prepare it accordingly for a bookie. I don't know in what context he was saying this," Ganguly said.