Johannesburg: Delhi Police had intimidated him with the threat of a death penalty, claims South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs who had been grilled by them for his suspected involvement in the 2000 match-fixing scandal in India.
“‘Sir, you had better come clean. We still have the death penalty here,” Gibbs quotes a top Delhi Police official as telling him during interrogation.
He does not name the police officer in his controversial autobiography ‘To the Point’ but describes him as “a tough-looking old Sikh gentleman who headed Delhi’s Murder and Robbery team”. This appears to be a reference to AS Cheema, who headed the anti-extortion cell of Crime Branch during the time Gibbs’ interrogation took place in 2006.
After initially refusing to be part of South Africa’s squad for an India tour for the fear of being arrested, Gibbs, accompanied by his lawyer Peter Whelan, travelled to the country to face grilling by a four-man panel.
“Needless to say, Peter jumped right in with both feet and threatened to end the meeting right there if they tried this kind of intimidating tactic,” Gibbs wrote.
Besides facing a “hostile” grilling, Gibbs also had to apologise to the then Delhi Police Crime Branch Commissioner Ranjit Narayan for publicly calling him ‘hard-arsed’.
The opener also disclosed that he had indulged in ‘tonsil hockey’ (deep kissing) with a German girl at the Taj Hotel the night before being questioned by police in the Indian capital.
Gibbs wrote about his return to India to face questioning following his role in the ‘Hansiegate’ saga (telephonic conversations of then South African captain Hansie Cronje with an Indian bookmaker were intercepted by police) in 2000.
“Our flight to India was via Dubai and Peter spent about eight of those hours coaching me on the upcoming grilling I was sure to get,” Gibbs wrote in the book.
“Remember that the King Commission (in South Africa) had been five years earlier and we knew the Indians would be looking for any discrepancies between my testimony back then and what I would have to say to them now.”
“I think the Indians were pretty taken aback when I turned up with both my lawyer and the High Commissioner. I was hustled inside to see KK Paul, who had been my Indian nemesis for the past six years.
‘Hello, Mr Gibbs,’ he said. ‘I’m a big fan of yours’. Not exactly the reception I had been expecting from him!”
“...a four-man panel, headed by the joint commissioner of the Delhi Police Crime Branch, Ranjit Narayan, bombarded me with questions for about three hours. It was a hostile situation, make no mistake, and it wasn’t helped either by the fact that I’d publicly said Commissioner Narayan was ‘hard-arsed’.
“The Commissioner wasn’t happy about that at all, and he even brought it up during the questioning. I had to apologise. His arse was not so hard after all,” Gibbs wrote.
Gibbs said he was convinced that the Indian authorities were determined to nail him because they had already banned quite a few of their cricketers.
In the book, Gibbs also revealed how his lawyer had made a contingency arrangement if the player was indeed arrested in India, despite a verbal assurance by Paul who, however, didn’t give that in writing.
“He had a full legal team on stand-by fearing arrest. He’d got the top legal firm in Delhi on full alert just in case.”
Just when Gibbs thought his ordeal was over, he got a call from Leslie Sackstein, Cronje’s lawyer, while enjoying lunch with the High Commissioner.
“(He) wanted to know what the hell I had said. It was pure political opportunism on Narayan’s part,” Gibbs said referring to a press conference by Narayan “where he hinted that I had implicated more Proteas players in the whole drama.”
It must be mentioned that Whelan had called a meeting with the Proteas the next day, to reassure the players of what Gibbs had actually said.
Besides the match-fixing saga, Gibbs has also detailed his sexual escapades especially while on tour of Australia.
Gibbs also lists five Australian cricketers in a section on his top-10 players -Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
No Indian features in Gibbs’ list, the others being Muthiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka, Viv Richards and Brian Lara of the West Indies, Wasim Akram of Pakistan, and Peter Kirsten as the only player from his home side, South Africa.
“As far as women are concerned, the Proteas’ tour to Australia from December 1997 to January 1998 was like going shopping,” Gibbs wrote in a chapter titled ‘The good times’.
“From the day we set foot there, women were falling into our laps virtually every night. They came hunting, often in packs,” Gibbs continued as he detailed his own sexual exploits and those of some unnamed teammates.
The controversial player’s fondness for booze and women is also candidly recalled in a section where he recounted defying instructions and staying out at night during a tour of New Zealand in 1999.
“I was fined R5,000, which made my escapade the previous evening the most expensive shag I ever had.”
Gibbs admits to having had a drinking problem that eventually got him into rehabilitation after a string of problems.
“...there were many times when I’d be drunk the night before a game, yet the next day be able to deliver an outstanding performance.”