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No one comes out of the ‘sting operation’ well, not Zee News and not Chetan Sharma

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 7 minute read

Zee News conducted a ‘sting operation’ on BCCI chief selector Chetan Sharma, who had been axed from his role after the 2022 T20 World Cup but was reinstated in January. The operation exposed little and sensationalised much but could still be harmful to the BCCI, writes Sarah Waris.

Let’s begin by defining what a ‘sting’ is. It is an operation that has been designed to expose unheard stories or unravel crimes. It usually entails an undercover detective, going on to gather proof of the suspect’s crimes. The cricketing world is not alien to sting operations, with the spot-fixing scandal involving Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir first coming to light after an undercover mission by the News of the World.

When Zee conducted a sting operation on Sharma, the result which was aired on Tuesday, a number of things stood out. Sharma, reclined on his couch at his residence, was asked questions, almost in the sequence of an interview, with the conversation lacking the informality of a casual conversation. Topics ranged from then BCCI president Sourav Ganguly’s dislike for Virat Kohli to the latter’s removal as ODI skipper with Sharma also claiming that star Indian players took injections in order to declare themselves match-fit, amongst other things.


Watching clippings of the ‘sting’, a peculiar incident stood out. The host asked Sharma about the overall attitude of the BCCI towards Kohli in the build-up to his axing as ODI skipper. The chief selector, who was also at the helm when Kohli was removed and replaced by Rohit Sharma, was hesitant to proceed with an answer before he was reassured. “The camera has been switched off and the wires [of the mic] have been muted. You are off the record now.” Zee proceeded to film Sharma’s answer nonetheless, which brings their ethical functioning into question.

Zee News, a Hindi channel, has an ill-reputation of reporting sensational news, bordering on favouritism even at the cost of facts. Often termed a “propaganda channel” with the aim of attracting eyeballs and TRPs (Television Rating Points), they are also habituated to spreading false news to suit their biased agenda. MS Dhoni was the victim of such reporting back in 2014 after his Indian Premier League team Chennai Super Kings officials were involved in illegal betting. Zee speculated that Dhoni was involved in the scandal as well, which forced the wicketkeeper to sue the network for INR 1 billion.

All of this came to the fore during their conversation with Sharma, which continued being recorded even after fake promises. All this said, however, it’s impossible to ignore the result of the ‘sting’ now, and while much of what Sharma has said is of little consequence, there are still potential consequences for both him and the BCCI.

What did Chetan Sharma go on to say?

Sharma on players taking injections:

“Some players just take injections on their own and they say they are fine. Not painkillers. They take injections and it is almost impossible to detect. They’ll need prescriptions for painkillers and they’ll get caught by anti-doping agencies. They take injections because they know what injections will not be caught by the agency. We can’t say that yes, they do this. But we can’t say that they don’t do it as well.”

Why it is not an issue: Although Sharma’s statement was passed off as ‘breaking news’ seemingly to expose a huge scandal that had been unearthed, most players around the world take injections to remain fit with Shoaib Akhtar famously saying that he took five injections for his knee ahead of the Pakistan-India clash in the 2003 World Cup. Here, Sharma did not explicitly mention what kind of injections are taken, leaving it vague and with very little clarification for it to be called a revelation.

Sharma on Kohli’s ouster:

“Don’t say that we were favouring Rohit Sharma, say that we were against Virat Kohli. Peg it like that…Ganguly was against Virat Kohli.”

Why it is an issue: Kohli’s axing from ODIs was arguably one of the ugliest incidents in Indian cricket since Ganguly’s own removal as skipper in his playing days. Sharma indicates an ego tussle between Kohli and Ganguly, who was the BCCI president in 2021 but also indicates a strong flavour of favouritism in Indian cricket. Whether the BCCI president’s personal preferences should affect selections should also be debated. Ganguly has since left his post, but Sharma stays on. It only casts a question mark over Sharma’s reputation as a selector and whether worthy players continue to be picked.

Sharma on being visited by several Indian players frequently:

“Current cricketers are in touch with me. They trust me. Hardik Pandya had come, and he had a casual chat with me. Deepak Hooda had come. Umesh Yadav came to meet me the other day. All these players want to speak to the chairman of selectors. All three are concerned about their future. Hardik wants to discuss his future. The discussions we can have at my house, we can’t have anywhere else. Hardik landed in Delhi the other day and called me immediately, asking me where I was, and then came to meet me at night.”

What was wrong in his comments: Sharma categorically conveyed that the cricketers trusted him and then went on to throw them in the deep end anyway. Sharma was an expert with Zee News in the last decade, so might have been familiar with the reporter and spoken matter-of-factly. However, a demand of his job is to not reveal inside discussions and to keep them confidential. While insecurities are common in the field amongst athletes and a few might need more assurances than others, Sharma only shot himself in the foot here.

Even if he knew the host from his days at Zee, he should have been alert about the reputation of the channel currently. Seeing journalists leak stories in the recent past should have also made him wary.

What this means for everyone involved

As far as Sharma is concerned, even though he did not make very controversial claims and revealed things we knew all along and his comments were, unsurprisingly, sensationalised, he is at fault. The BCCI has set up an enquiry panel to get to the bottom of the issue. He not only broke the player’s trust with his statements but also revealed the deep dark secret that favouritism exists in Indian cricket, putting the BCCI’s reputation under question. You do not air dirty laundry in public, which is an unspoken rule for an employee. The growing leaks all around, coming from within their circles, should be a cause for worry for the BCCI. The timing of the airing will not work for Sharma either – India are currently embroiled in a gruelling Test series with Australia, with squads for the last two Tests yet to be selected. Will Sharma continue to helm the committee and select the team after accusing his own board of favouritism?

For the BCCI, there are questions over why there is such an appetite for these stories. Squads are released without explanation or chance for scrutiny, and decisions are made without justification. A more open stance could clear up many issues, rather than encouraging such speculation.

While the ‘sting’ did not reveal new information, it did give hints of small but glaring issues within Indian cricket, where mistrust reigns and loyalty matters for little. There might not be drastic changes on the back of this, but for the sake of the game in the country, it should not be ignored either.

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