I recently thanked the man who gave me my first journalist’s job – sports writer par excellence S.K. Sham.
Sham greeted me warmly.
“I gave you a lot scolding also at that time, Hari!”
“They made me what I am today – a passably good journalist,” I told him.
I had read Sham’s weekly column in the Free Press Journal wherein he had hailed Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan’s feat of 800 Test wickets.
Had it not been for the “forced leaves of absence” that kept the ace spinner who invented the “Doosra” on tenterhooks of action examinations, perhaps Muralitharan may have crossed 1000 Test wickets, or so, Sham said.
Always a polite man when he writes, Sham had left out the details of the fixing scandals breaking out all over the world concerning the careers of more infamous cricketers.
Jostling for space cheek by jowl with Sham’s column in the same paper was a news item that quoted Indian former cricketing ace Kapil Dev as saying that if someone had to restore Pakistan’s cricketing image by cleaning its Augean Stables, it had to be that nation's handsome former skipper Imran Khan.
I pointed out the irony and added, “Cleaning my foot! Does Kapil think that people like you and me have forgotten that Imran had openly using a bottle top in a county cricket match while playing for Sussex – thereby inventing the ‘banana-in-swinger’ by altering the shine and seam? And wasn’t it Imran, to impart the ‘art’ to Pakistani players like Javed Miandad, Majid Khan, Wasim Akram and several others by using bottle tops, pieces of razor blades and specially sharpened human nails?”
My question, needless to add, was pure rhetoric.
“What else can you expect from Kapil who even today says that Azharuddin is clean, to anyone willing to listen? And then there are all those scandals about celebrity cricketers demanding actresses’ discussing cinematic technique during late nights in 5-star hotel rooms to shake off fatigue acquired during hard days at office while playing exhibition matches to help building the odd temple,” Sham added with a chuckle, rather thoughtfully.
“Well, I had rather innocently asked a major sports administrator specialising in horse races about a temple built for a celibate Hindu God along the border of his sprawling premises as to whether the practice of creating a shrine on Samadhis of saints was being followed even now. Despite being known for his jet black complexion, the man had gone a shade pale,” I went on to say.
Sham did not seem to have heard the comment at all.
Sham was the first journalist who predicted Azharuddin’s batting prowess during his career’s second consecutive century during a test match at Chepauk to me.
“There is something, however, wrong with this boy. I find him kind of shifty – not only in his looks, behaviour and all, but something more. There is some sort of sinister side to this boy,” Sham had said in the eighties as we sat in the press box above the pavilion in M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
While Sham was proved right, the press box itself has been shifted from that position at Chepauk.
And I do not cover cricket any longer.
Later on, another Mumbai journalist told me, “I was talking to a few journalists. Some colleagues were discussing what you told other friends here. The gist of what they said: ‘Hari should be careful. Big game fixing temple-building bigwig sinners all over India have painfully bumped off sportsmen who did not ‘cooperate’ with an alarming grim regularity. Such villains always remember who asked which loaded question and always guess why.”
And here are some details that will make several persons and their institutions blush.
Indian media and that of the world have begun taking different views from the critiques that were on air on the Commonwealth Games 2010 till the other day and teams were threatening to pull out.
“The situation has dramatically, and for the better,” an official from what can broadly be described as UK was quoted as saying.
It certainly has, indeed.
After all, saving nearly 3000 jobs of the near bankrupt chopper manufacturing unit near the Italian global cocaine distribution capital – Milan is a ‘vastly improved situation’.
It simply does not matter to us that the company Augusta Westland jointly held by the British and eyeties managed to ‘sell’ Rs.3600 crore worth ‘flying coffins’ [description courtesy an Indian Air Force flying ace’s widow ‘infected with vested interests’] during the ‘August’ visit of the brand new British premier coincided with the clamour crescendo demanding the ouster of Suresh Kalmadi with juicy details about the London outskirts’ side of the Queen’s Baton relay scandal.
Nor does it concern us that Milan is part of Italy’s province of Turin that also encompasses little known place called Orbassano, where the Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi grew up.
The little detail about Kalmadi being a suspected plant into the Congress party by union minister for agriculture Sharad Pawar who had once challenged the imported hegemony on the Indian National Congress to form the Nationalist Congress Party that now shares a not so cosy coalition relationship in Maharashtra and the centre is of no consequence to us.
Nor should we read too much into the fact that Pawar is the ICC president – a post being eyed by ‘other interested nations’ and the scandals are demystifying the cricket’s cult status in India and Pakistan whose matches always attract the largest crowds.
The low-down on Westland
Westland Aircraft was founded in 1935 when Petters Limited split its aircraft manufacturing from its aircraft engine concerns.
During World War II the company produced military aircraft including the Lysander, the Whirlwind and the Welkin.
After the Second World War, the company began to build helicopters.
Though the company concentrated on choppers since the mid-1950s and made its presence felt by being included in the fleet of Royal Air Force in 1953, its so-called ‘improved version’ Widgeon, was not a great success.
Between 1959 and1961, the British government effected the merger of the 20 or so aviation firms into three groups, British Aircraft Corporation [BAC], Hawker Siddeley Group [HSG] and Westland.
While BAC and HSG were somewhat standalone units, Westland was an amalgamation of the helicopter divisions of Bristol, Fairey and Saunders-Roe (along with their hovercraftdivision).
In the late 1960s, the company began a collaboration with Aerospatiale to design three new helicopters, the Aérospatiale Puma, Aérospatiale Gazelle and Westland Lynx, with the latter being a Westland design.
Through Saunders-Roe, Westland became first a part owner then, from 1970, the whole owner of the British Hovercraft Corporation, subsequently trading as Westland Aerospace. Most designs were Saunders-Roe or Saunders-Roe derivatives.
For many years Westland owned the main London heliport atBattersea.
Despite good support from the British establishment, the company gradually fell into unprofitability. Sikorsky approached with a bail-out deal in 1985 that split the cabinet and led to the resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine in January 1986 over the fate of Britain's sole helicopter manufacturer.
The split, which became known as the Westland affair, was over whether to push the company into a European deal or accept the American company’s offer.
Eventually, the link with Sikorsky was accepted.
Since the 1990s, the company netted several major contracts from the UK Ministry of Defence for EH101 Merlin helicopters and for 67 licence-built Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters designated the WAH-64.
Some of the company's Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters served the Queen's Flight (later merged into No. 32 Squadron).
Guest Keen Nettlefolds Public Limited Company [PLC], a company with a history over 250 years bought into Westland in 1988, acquiring a stake owned by Hanson plc.
Soon, shares owned by Fiat too were acquired giving them absolute control.
In 1994 Westland became a wholly owned subsidiary of GKN.
In 2001, the company was merged with Finmeccanica’sAgusta helicopter division.
In 2004, Finmeccanica S.p.A. acquired GKN's share in the joint venture.
The Westland affair originated with Alan Bristow's bid for the company in April 1985.
Bristow threatened to end his bid unless the Government assured him that there would be future orders for the company from the Ministry of Defence.
Bristow also demanded the waiver of the repayment of over £40 million of launch aid for Westland’s newest helicopter from the Department of Trade and Industry.
At a Government meeting it was decided that Norman Tebbit should persuade the Bank of England to cooperate with the company’s main creditors in the hope that a recovery plan and new management would end the threat of receivership.
Bristow withdrew his bid.
Next, Sir John Cuckney became Chairman of Westland.
Shortly thereafter, an American company was thought to be preparing to bid for the company.
Cuckney opposed this particular bid, as did Tebbit and Heseltine.
Cuckney proposed that a new minority shareholder of 29.9% be introduced. However no British firm was willing to enter this but an American company, Sikorsky, was interested.
In November 1985 Sikorsky made an offer and Westland’s management was favourable.
Heseltine was opposed to this and called a conference of the National Armaments Directors (NAD) of Britain, France, Italy and West Germany to sign a document which would commit each country to only purchase helicopters designed and manufactured in Europe.
If Westland went ahead with Sikorsky its helicopters, under this new agreement, none of its machines could be bought by the four governments.
Margaret Thatcher's and Leon Brittan said during that meeting that it was up to Westland to decide which deal it wanted, and not the Government.
Thatcher then convened two meetings to discuss Westland with Heseltine, Brittan, Tebbit, William Whitelaw, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson on 5 and 6 December.
Brittan argued that NAD’s opposition should be set aside, but Heseltine, Howe and Tebbit disagreed.
Thatcher called a Cabinet meeting for 9 December, which Cuckney also attended to give a speech.
Cuckney said that it was the management’s view that the Sikorsky option was the best one.
A majority of the Cabinet meeting agreed to dismiss NAD’s opposition but Thatcher gave consent to both Heseltine and Brittan to explore a possible European deal which Westland's management could accept. She gave them until 4 pm on 13 December and if by then Westland rejected the European package, NAD’s recommendations would be formally rejected.
Westland chose Sikorsky instead of the European firms but Heseltine wanted another Cabinet meeting. Thatcher rejected his demands because Westland had made up its mind on which deal it would recommend.
At a Cabinet meeting on 12 December Heseltine, without warning, tried to discuss Westland but Thatcher was not willing to without the necessary papers. Heseltine was angry and claimed a meeting on Westland had been cancelled but Thatcher argued that no such meeting had ever been scheduled.
Heseltine wanted his views on the alleged cancelled meeting to be included in the Cabinet minutes; it was not going to be mentioned until the Cabinet Secretary noticed they were absent, and added it himself.
Later, the European consortium came up with a new bid and Heseltine thought the Government's policy should be changed to enable the European bid to succeed.
The disagreements between Brittan and Heseltine over Westland became public and were widely reported in the media.
Westland’s management was worried about future business with European governments and Thatcher replied to Cuckney to the effect that the British Government would continue to support it.
Heseltine wanted to include less supportive views, but Thatcher did not allow this.
In early January Lloyds Bank sent Heseltine an angry letter.
In his reply, Heseltine listed the things which in his view would happen if Westland chose Sikorsky instead of the European alternative, claiming, among other things that by contradicting Thatcher’s reassurances to Cuckney, Westland risked losing future European orders by taking up the Sikorsky option.
Heseltine reportedly leaked the correspondence to The Times.
On Thatcher’s request, the letter was referred to the Solicitor-General Patrick Mayhew.
In turn, Mayhew pointed out “material inaccuracies” in the correspondence in a communiqué said to have been sent to Heseltine.
On 6 January Mayhew's letter was selectively leaked to the Press Association by the Chief Information Officer of the Department of Trade and Industry, Colette Bowe.
Needless to add, it became a festering controversy.
Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers took a stern view of the leaks and allegedly threatened to quit if a quick official inquiry conducted to find out the truth.
Thatcher agreed to do this.
A Cabinet meeting on Westland was scheduled for 9 January.
Brittan and Heseltine both put forward their views.
Thatcher concluded by saying that as this was a time of business negotiations all answers relating to Westland should be cleared through the Cabinet Office.
Thatcher underlined the need for the Cabinet’s collective responsibility.
Heseltine then reportedly pointed out in a peeved tone that there never had been any collective responsibility in what he termed the “Westland Affair”.
According to Peter Jenkins, Heseltine lost his cool, gathered his papers, got up from his chair, angrily proclaiming “I can no longer be a member of this Cabinet” and stomped out of the room, the Prime Ministerial Downing Street residence and announced his resignation to the assembled media.
Within a few hours of his resignation, Heseltine produced a twenty-two minute statement of 2,500 words detailing his grievances charging Thatcher with intransigence and highhanded behaviour.
George Younger moved into the place vacated by Heseltine andMalcolm Rifkind took up Younger's previous job and became theSecretary of State for Scotland.
All hell broke loose January 13 when Heseltine demanded the government to reveal whether or not a letter had been received from British Aerospace with regard to the Westland deal.
On record Brittan replied in the negative in parliament only to return to the House a few hours later to apologise.
Parliamentary debates between January15 and 21 established the following:
 There had been no collective responsibility with regard to the Westland deal.
 Brittan had asked his private secretary Roger Mogg through telephone to instruct Bowe to leak Mayhew’s letter. The enquiry report had been authored by then Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong.
 Thatcher claimed that she had been kept in the dark on this by Brittan triggering the following statement: “Unless the PM is the most marvellous actress I've ever seen in my life, she was as shocked as anybody that in fact [the leak happened] Leon Brittan's instructions.”
Brittan resigned January 24 saying, “it has become clear to me that I no longer command the full confidence of my colleagues.”
Thatcher had been completely cornered January 27 but allowed to wriggle out by none other than Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.
Heseltine’s wish to see a strong European competitor has fructified through the merger of Agusta and Westland 2000 and the entity’s acquiring GKN’s stake 2004.
The affair was satirised in the Yes, Prime Minister episode “Man Overboard”.
On 22 June 2006 the UK Ministry of Defence awarded Westland a £1 billion contract for 70 ''Future Lynx'' helicopters under a strategic partnering agreement with Agusta Westland.
The programme meant to provide the British Army and Royal Navy with 40 and 30 aircraft respectively, with an option for a further 10, split equally between Army and Navy.
Future Lynx was described as a new aircraft that builds on the dynamic and vehicle systems of the existing design, incorporating advanced technology and providing increased capability.
Notes of caution abound on Westland products.
Some of them read thus:
“Fatigue problems with the existing airframe and rotor system are to be corrected”.
“Despite being well liked by the services, the Lynx does not have a good safety record. The aircraft has been grounded on a number of occasions”.
“In 2000 fatigue problems with the rotor head led to a Dutch aircraft crash and subsequent grounding”.
“In early 2004 three Lynx crashed in a matter of weeks and again some aircraft were grounded”.
“One of the reasons for the Future Lynx programme is to cure some of the known problems with the airframe and rotor systems”.
After a Westland chopper purchased by India in 1986 crashed, it was described by a former Indian Air Force ace’s widow as “flying coffins”.
Now that the Games are a thing of the past with India having achieved some glory, the fact that Kalmadi began getting sidelined after the visit of British premier Cameron will be conveniently forgotten.
When this itself will not stay in public memory, nobody will remember that a person answering to the name of Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan – the self-styled president in exile of the Republic of Khalistan who lived in some style in central London’s fashionable Bayswater district was rudely asked to remove his ‘national flag’ fluttering above a piece of real estate owned by two Sikh siblings generally known as Khera brothers after Margaret Thatcher and Rajiv Gandhi inked the Westland Helicopter deal.
The final aside on this is that the choppers were purchased through a low interest aid from the British regime amounting to Rs.560 crores - on which we not only paid interest but also after they became junk we returned the junk to Westland at a princely fee of Rs.5 crores!
One cannot predict whether Kalmadi will continue to head IOA – like he has for the past 4 years.
The question to be asked is, “If he could continue sans any spectacular success so far, why shouldn’t he in the future?”
Talking of sports, our national obsession – the ‘Gentleman’s Game of Cricket’ is no longer cricket [meaning fair play] because the following dubious a-z:
a) Pakistan’s cricketers are not the only ones guilty of corruption. In 2000, names of players from almost all cricketing nations were bandied about for one stinking reason or another.
b) Pakistan’s players’ protestations of innocence, however, are not even being taken seriously even with fistfuls of pickles because spot-fixing is easily possible and can go unnoticed till somebody is caught.
c) Therefore, the disease is certainly, malignantly real.
d) Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer died during the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, it was speculated that he had been killed by bookie accomplices of some players because he had come down on their nefarious activities. Woolmer, as it turned out, had died of medical causes.
e) Pakistan players have become suspect since the mid-1990s when Mark Waugh and Shane Warne disclosed that they had been offered money to throw a match by Pakistan captain Salim Malik during an Australia tour of Pakistan.
f) Since the infamous 2000 scam, several players were and are being linked to Malik, which in Urdu, means the boss.
g) Like an ostrich, PCB has buried its head in the sand. Worldwide reports suggest the problem is perhaps institutionalised to such an extent that even newcomers Mohammed Aamir and Wahab Riaz have got sucked into it.
h) Worse, the brand new skipper of Pakistan Salman Butt was willing to risk everything – that only indicates that there is huge money in this.
i) Let us not forget that the original fixer’s confession emerged through South African skipper Hansie Cronje – who strangely died in a plane crash a few months later. The padre who listened to his confession and the pilot who flew the aircraft too have painfully perished.
j) The Asian subcontinent cricket establishment stinks alright. In Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even in India, selection committees and administrators have been suddenly changed. Careers like that of Modi have been wiped out – virtually overnight. [I have neither anger nor sympathy towards Modi because the entire system is as good as him.] It is just that Modi committed the cardinal sin of being isolated in the racket and got caught.
k) Captains and players have been removed from teams sans explanations at whims and fancies of administrators in not only Pakistan but also India. Who can forget how one of our best batsmen Mohinder Amarnath broke down into tears during a newspaper interview, cursing the ‘accursed Indian cricket system’? And who will mourn the unceremonious removals of S Venkataraghavan and K Srikkanth after tours of England and Pakistan respectively?
l) The all pervasive colossal mistrust that has set into every game has led to underperformances and given rise to allegations of fixing and other kinds of corruption being made by players’ groups against the administration and vice versa.
m) No country is willing to tour Pakistan after the terror attack on Sri Lanka in 2009. Betting has rendered off-shore cricket ‘iffy’.
n) Pakistani Prime Minister’s shedding crocodile tears because of the “cricketing shame” is a cruel joke as he has been charged with siphoning off billions of dollars that came in the form of flood relief.
o) Even if found and pronounced guilty, Salman Butt and his vice-captain Kamran Akmal will attempt to claw their way back into the game by pretending to have no idea of the seriousness of allegations against them. In all probability, they may succeed!
p) The Pakistan Cricket Board is a long-standing joke, its chairmen replaced with every change of government. The current boss, Ijaz Butt, is the brother-in-law of Pakistan's defence minister, a crony of President ‘10% of everything’ Asif Ali Zardari. The International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board – somewhat pathetic bodies are dominated by political and financial interests respectively forced to turn Nelson’s eyes to multiple fudges – left, right and centre.
q) Neither Mohammad Aamir, the latest teenaged speed sensation nor his idol Wasim Akram after whom the former shaped his career are good advertisements for the game.
r) In the distant past, well known British cricketer WG Grace was a known cheat on and off the field. Captains of other teams – India and South Africa – have engaged in similar practices. Betting syndicates are a major part of the problem.
s) But who will correct the malaise? Our politicians who are more corrupt than the game administrators? And if they attempt at this, will the shady operators stop from their gamesmanship attempts? So what will happen when blackmailing attempts begin against the political avengers?
t) Imran Khan is the worst example of all this. He admitted to ball tampering openly, taught the art to his protégés, retired from the game, entered politics and came a cropper there despite calling his organisation – The Party of Honour and Justice! Obviously Paki politicians saw the opportunity and rammed their advantage home, probably with some help from accessed through Jewish databases. To those who wonder whether this blow comes from, Khan’s late father-in-law and father of the former cricketer’s ex-wife Jemima – Sir James Goldsmith was born a Jew.
Khan admitted in 1994 that he had “occasionally scratched the side of the ball and lifted the seam”.
“Only once did I use an object. When Sussex were [sic] playing Hampshire in 1981 the ball was not deviating at all. I got the 12th man to bring out a bottle top and it started to move around a lot,” Khan was quoted as saying in his own autobiography!
u) Match fixing began in earnest in Pakistan during the cricketing days of former captain Asif Iqbal. Upon losing the toss in a Test match, he informed his Indian counterpart – rather nonchalantly, that Pakistan had won the toss. Iqbal, however, continues to deny this. Players like Basit Ali and Rashid Latif testified against the betting syndicates dictating to the wilful collaborator Iqbal. While the careers of Ali and Latif were nipped in the bud, the bookie who corroborated the evidence died ‘mysteriously’ in – you have guessed rightly – South Africa!
v) Whatever be the failings of Shahid Afridi, he refuses to play ball with the fixers. The Justice Qayyum Commission in Pakistan ‘exonerated’ persons like Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Inzamam of all charges after levying a ‘small fine’ – whatever that means among other things, on the basis of evidence given by persons like Yawar Saeed – who went on record saying, “whatever one says, the [Pakistani] team exhibited 100% commitment and did not indulge in match fixing at all!”
w) Shoaib Akhtar, once acquitted of charges of chucking has been found guilty of ball-tampering for a second time in his career. He was first found guilty of cheating in a Test match against Zimbabwe in Harare, November 2002. His latest misdemeanour was found during the one-day match between Pakistan and New Zealand played in Sri Lanka. Pakistan won both the games with Shoaib taking 3-36 in the ODI and 7-118 in the Test match.
x) Waqar Younis was given a one-match suspension two years ago after he was seen on television lifting the seam during a one-day international against South Africa.
y) In the summer of 1992, during the Test and one-day series between England and Pakistan, umpires Ken Palmer and John Hampshire had the mortification of ordering the ball to be changed during the interval of the Lord’s one-day international. Significantly, ICC later refused to release either the ball or the umpires’ report to the media. Imran Khan won damages worth taking £400,000 from Ian Botham and Allan Lamb for signed articles.
z) In November 2001, match referee Mike Denness found Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar guilty of ball-tampering. It resulted in effigies of Denness being burnt publicly in India and charges of racism were hurled against him.