I thought I had set up the interview with Lalit Modi at least three weeks in advance. It was about the time #LalitGate was making headlines. He had agreed to meet at 7pm at his house on Sloane Street, London on June 28, and we had discussed some of the cricketing issues we would be talking about. In my mind at least it was clear I’d be talking to him on camera. Accordingly, we had arranged for cameras et al and I set out from my apartment in West Hampstead with an hour in hand to reach Sloane Street in time. Half way into the journey Lalit messaged saying the meeting had been shifted to the Bulgari Hotel on Knightsbridge. It is just a street away from his place and it meant I did not have to take a detour.
On reaching the hotel I found Lalit sitting at the last table in the lobby, on his left he was surrounded by his closest confidantes - his lawyer and his principal IT guy, well ensconced behind a computer, rapidly working on a Powerpoint. Seeing me Lalit was warm.
“I said I will meet you and have a chat but I don’t want to do an interview," was his first statement. I was a little stunned to say the least. Even before I could explain, he reiterated his decision to not do another interview. “Till I get an answer to my question - the one and only question as to why I was called a fugitive and on what basis, I am not doing further interviews.”
It was time I told him I did not want to do a political interview. It is not my area of expertise and I would much rather talk to him about cricket and cricket only. Not that cricket isn’t political, in India at least! When I mentioned to him that I needed to know his perspective on why the ICC did not investigate (or if it did, we don’t know) the three names he had submitted to them in a confidential email, he seemed to warm up. My next question was, did he have any hope that investigations would be carried out given N Srinivasan was at the helm of the ICC and the boss of the ACSU and because all the three players named are from the Chennai Super Kings? Finally, I asked him if he was not returning to India fearing an arrest. That’s when Lalit Modi came to life. “What arrest”, he literally screamed at me. “I have not even been charged by any court of law so why should I fear arrest! First charge me and then ask these questions.”
By then I knew I had my interview. We sat down to discuss things in detail and one must say Lalit is a fantastic document keeper. Being a historian, it was amazing to see him trawl through every little detail trying to piece his side of the story. He went to great lengths in trying to explain that he did not have a say in not taking RBI clearance while opening the bank account in South Africa in 2009 and it was N Srinivasan who had done this ignoring a BCCI resolution adopted a week earlier. Not stopping at that, he showed me the documents to prove his case. Thereafter, document after document was drawn up from his smartphone, and it was clearly borne out to me that here’s a man who is well prepared for the eventuality. He won’t go down without a fight and is very clear - he can’t be singled out for wrongdoings of the BCCI.
“Why is it that the names given by the Justice Mudgal Committee are not being made public? Why did the ED not challenge the decision when the Delhi High Court decided to return my passport? They did not because they know and their lawyers know that they don’t have a case. If they did, they would surely have challenged it.”
The fact is Lalit is daring the ED. He is throwing an open challenge suggesting that if you have a case against him, please try and prove it. Not many have done so in the past and it is now upon the Enforcement Directorate to come forward and give evidence - show the world that Lalit is on slimy ground. That his Twitter rants are no more than rants and have little basis in fact.
And in all of this where is Indian cricket? A former captain said it nicely to me on the day the interview was broadcast on India Today Television, “If I switch on the television these days, all I get is match fixing, scandal, money laundering and the like. Where is cricket in all of this?”
Sadly, that’s what Indian cricket has been reduced to. It is now a game that is simply not played in the 22 yards in the middle of the ground. It is played in boardrooms by the men in power and alliances are forged for temporary gains and no more. It just isn’t cricket is now a cliché and as a fan that’s the biggest disappointment of all. Whether or not Lalit Modi wins his battle there is already one loser in all of this - and that is Indian cricket.