Cairns vs Modi: Trial by fire sparked by a tweet

TREVOR MCKEWEN
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2013
Chris Cairns
Fairfax NZ
BLACK CAP LEGEND: Chris Cairns in action for New Zealand back in 2001.
Lalit Modi
Getty Images
LEGAL BATTLE: Former Commissioner of Indian Premier League cricket Lalit Modi arrives at the High Court in London in March last year.

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Chris Cairns has been accused of match-fixing before but was vindicated. Fairfax Media backgrounds the High Court defamation case that the former Black Cap thought had put an end to all of this.

According to the High Court judgment, the first expert estimated the tweet was seen by 35 people. The second said 95, tops. The judge was advised he should take the figure as about 65.

But when Lalit Modi pressed the button that sent his 24-word message into cyberspace on January 5, 2010, he sparked a firestorm that raged all the way to London's High Court where the events that sparked it in the first place were rigorously examined.

They are flames Chris Cairns thought he had quelled once and for all last year when he won a spectacular legal victory in a defamation case against the powerful then boss of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

But now there are other fires with his name being linked in overseas headlines to an International Cricket Council investigation into three former Black Caps and alleged match-fixing.

The events of last Thursday instantly transformed Cairns back to that time. Weary, emotional and having had no contact from the ICC, Cairns, a cricket columnist for the Sunday Star-Times, said that evening that he felt like he was living a recurring nightmare.

Which takes us back to the evidence, and the decision of the High Court that Modi had defamed Cairns.

The judgment records Modi's tweet relating to an alleged past record of match-fixing. It was quickly picked up by a reporter from Cricinfo, who repeated the claim on the international website. This was the basis on which Cairns sued, successfully, for defamation.

The judgment focused in detail on a meeting between Cairns and the executive of the Indian Cricket League (ICL), led by its chairman Himanshu Mody, on October 26, 2008. At the time, the non-sanctioned ICL was locked in a pitched battle with the Indian board-endorsed IPL competition with both juggling to secure the riches coming with a Twenty20 boom sweeping the sub-continent.

Cairns was at the Shangri-La Hotel just hours after the Chandigarh Lions franchise he was captain and coach of had finished a game against the Hyderabad Heroes. His evidence was that he received a message to meet with Mody (not to be confused with Lalit Modi from the IPL) in his suite. He arrived to find four other ICL representatives there including the late former England captain and commentator Tony Greig.

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The Judge accepted that also present, as a silent observer for part of the meeting, was the ICL's anti-corruption officer, a former Victorian policeman named Howard Beer.

Cairns and Beer were the only men in the room that night to give evidence of what was talked about. Their accounts differed significantly.

Cairns' version of the meeting, outlined in his witness statement, suggests a convivial atmosphere with drinks shared among the group and Mody acting as "the host".

"After a bit of chit-chat he asked me about rumours that had stretched back to the Second Edition of the ICL when a Pakistani team, the Lahore Badshahs, had come to the tournament led by Izamam Ul-Haq," Cairns said.

"Rumours had circulated at the time about their performance in that tournament. Himanshu Mody then said there had been rumours that my name, along with others, had been mentioned in connection with match-fixing...I said any such rumours were laughable and completely untrue."

Cairns' statement says that when he rejected the claims, there was an "audible sigh" of relief in the room. He said the meeting then developed into "a general conversation about the rumours of match-fixing and the tone was more a sounding out of my views . . . I was not accused of anything during this meeting."

Cairns said the conversation then turned to the ankle injury he was suffering from and the tone changed with Mody claiming his poor performances were undermining the ICL. "Himanshu Mody then said he was terminating my contract (worth $US350,000) because I had not disclosed the extent of my injury."

Cairns said a lengthy discussion followed where he tried to talk the ICL executives into letting him "solider on" before he reluctantly accepted their decision after a promise he would be invited to play in the league the following season.

Beer's account to the court of the same meeting paints a different picture.

"They were discussing the allegations made by various players of Chris Cairns' involvement in match-fixing," Beer claimed.

His evidence goes to claim that "it was put to Chris Cairns that he had used fear tactics with some players in order to persuade them to under perform in certain games, and that he promised money or a guarantee of their place in the team for under-performing. He denied this and denied that that he had any involvement in match-fixing."

The judge considered that evidence carefully but, having noted it was impossible to be precise about what was said, concluded that nothing said or not said by Cairns amounted to an express or implied admission of guilt.

The judge noted that the day after the hotel meeting Cairns met South African player Andrew Hall (who had taken over his duties) and asked him "to stick up" for him if rumours of match-fixing surfaced. He went on to address the team, broke down in tears and left India that day.

But the judge continued, noting that Hall, who had believed in Cairns' innocence, met Beer the next day, and Beer had "eased concerns" he had regarding whether the hotel meeting had followed due process. Beer told him it had "to the letter".

In his decision, the judge noted that "at Beer's suggestion", Hall told the team that he now had the names and the information regarding the match-fixing allegations. On the team bus, Hall produced an envelope supposedly containing witness statements (which was in fact stuffed with blank paper) and said people should "feel free to come and talk" to him.

This echoed the judge's observation that during cross-examination, although he did not mention it in his witness statement, Beer claimed Tony Greig had told Cairns during the Shangri-La meeting that the ICL had signed affidavits from players accusing him.

After the judge carried out a detailed review of the evidence, he rejected Beer's claim about Greig and the affidavits and stated some of Beer's actions and evidence was "partisan to the point of being unprofessional" before concluding "I was not impressed with his evidence". The judge noted that in his view Beer "eventually accepted in cross-examination" that he had not provided a "fair assessment" to Hall of Cairns' alleged involvement.

Judge Bean concluded that Modi had "singularly failed to provide any reliable evidence that Mr Cairns was involved in match fixing or spot fixing, or even that there were strong grounds for suspicion that he was". He said that various key witnesses for Modi were "not to be believed" (for reasons he gave in the judgment), that the hearsay evidence Modi relied on was unreliable, and that the last minute evidence Modi produced "falls well short of sustaining the Defendant's case."

On that basis Judge Bean said that even if he was applying a simple balance of probabilities test, Modi's plea of justification would fail, so Cairns was entitled to damages. He awarded the Kiwi $174,000 in damages and dumping Modi with his legal bills of $774,000.

On the steps of the High Court, an exhausted but happy Cairns said he could now walk into cricket grounds around the world with his head held high again.

But on Thursday, that all changed.

"I laid my soul bare for two weeks in that court and I wouldn't wish it upon anybody," he said that night. "It is bizarre that we are talking about this all over again."

The only people not talking, of course, are the ICC.

Cairns has repeatedly said he doesn't know what they are talking about behind closed doors and wants to. The cricketing world awaits too.

- Sunday Star Times

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