IPL scandal

A run for your money

Print edition : June 14, 2013

S. Sreesanth Photo: PTI

Ajit Chandila. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Ankeet Chavan. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

N. Srinivasan, President, BCCI. The Board said it could not play the role of the policeman. Photo: V. Ganesan

The spot-fixing scandal exposes the BCCI-run Indian Premier League’s “greed is good” dictum. The players involved have only taken their masters’ cues when it comes to the lure of money.

ESCORTED by policemen, their faces covered in black hoods, S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila of the Rajasthan Royals cricket team presented a poignant picture. The Test star and his team mates were arrested for their alleged role in spot-fixing some matches in the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). “Sad day for cricket,” remarked a club cricketer, feeling let down by his better-known peers. The game has suffered yet another blow, 13 years after the former South African captain Hansie Cronje had confessed to having fixed matches.

The business of fixing had not died. It was only lying dormant, waiting for some greedy hands to revive it. The latest scandal to hit cricket has come in the IPL’s T20 (Twenty20) tournament, a format that is tempting and alluring to bookies and punters. It becomes a fertile area for betting because in all these fast-paced games a result is guaranteed and fortunes can either swing or be made to swing in the span of a few deliveries.

Spot and match

In 2000, it was a chance conversation the Delhi Police stumbled upon that led to the unravelling of a massive match-fixing scandal involving some of the biggest names in the game. Spot-fixing made its appearance during Pakistan’s tour of England in 2010 when Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif indulged in a corrupt practice that was suspected, but never exposed. The three were implicated when Asif and Amir deliberately bowled no-balls at the behest of Butt in the Lord’s Test. Spot-fixing is an easier mode of influencing the books than match-fixing. A no-ball, a full toss or a half-volley always raised greater suspicion in the IPL than in any other format of the game. There were many suspicious instances in the IPL but evidence was hard to come by. Once again, it needed a vigilant police for this menace to be unearthed.

Rajasthan Royals happened to be the team that stood ravaged by Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila deciding to underperform, or rather cheat, in the opinion of cricket fans who had flocked the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur to cheer their team, which remained unbeaten in all the home matches. When the news of the spot-fixing broke, the reaction was one of shock and despair for most fans, but it was hardly surprising for the more discerning ones. The IPL had an aura of unreal action.

“Ban the league”, “ban the players” was the universal refrain. “Strictest of punishment”, promised the authorities. But how? Indian laws are ill-equipped to deal with crimes such as match-fixing. “Admissible in court,” announced Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, as he put on show the results of his force’s good work—the transcript of the alleged conversations between the cricketers and some notorious bookies.

A suspected link to the underworld gave the scandal a new twist. Dubai and Pakistan were said to be the epicentre of the spot-fixing episode. It was the same story in 2000. Some players were crucified, many got away; the game suffered a huge blow. Time healed the wounds and it was “back to normal”. But the attendance at Test matches had begun to fall and led to the birth of the monster called the IPL. It changed the way cricket had been played.

The money league

Cheerleaders, after-match parties, glitz and glamour became an integral part of a game that was seen as a platform for gentlemen to indulge in a leisurely exercise. That was many summers ago, but the IPL swelled the coffers of the cricket administrators, and cricketers became multimillionaires by participating in a mediocre domestic tournament.

The IPL, started in 2008, is a mere domestic tournament of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) but offers players a career unthinkable in most other sporting disciplines. Cricketers are known more by what price they command than their abilities to win a match for their club, or their franchisee as the owners of the teams in the IPL are called. The association of film stars, the horde of sponsors, and the adulation of the fans made the IPL a heady mix for the cricketers and an intoxicating one for those connected with the conduct of the tournament.

Audiences filled up most seats at every IPL match. Music blared, the crowd roared, and the game’s image soared. It was a successful business model that combined entertainment with sport spectacularly to generate mind-boggling revenue. Cricketers became rich overnight. They became greedy and corrupt, too.

When they lost their way, the administrators woke up to the humungous challenge of protecting their players from the vicious web of bookies and match-fixers. Clearly, the cricket administrators were unprepared, refusing to learn from experience.

The BCCI took the position that it could not play the role of the policeman. But what prevented the officials from mentoring the gullible elements? True, it was an individual thing to fall prey to greed, but the Board had a role to play: to guide the young players on how to manage their finances and how to tackle unknown forces who could approach them with corrupt motives.

Incidentally, one of the alleged bookies was Amit Singh, a first-class cricketer from Gujarat. Suspect bowling action cost him a career in Gujarat and Rajasthan Royals. With his playing days at an end, he took to corrupt ways, luring some of his former colleagues into the world of spot-fixing. The IPL, unsurprisingly, became a convenient breeding ground for corrupt elements.

Fooling everyone

On television, Sunil Gavaskar was scathing in his reactions: “I am completely shocked. It’s a great platform for players to showcase their talent. They are even rewarded handsomely... some of them perhaps over-handsomely. To find out that some players are tempted to do something like that, it is shocking. The Twenty20 format is such that the sport sees unorthodox strokes and because of the nature of the format you expect the unexpected as far as cricketing skills are concerned. It’s considered part of the game. I haven’t seen anything that has raised my eyebrows. You just feel like an idiot. You bring some of your cricketing experience to make a case for a particular delivery or a shot and if later on something like this comes up then you think you have been made an absolute fool.”

For Rahul Dravid, captain of Rajasthan Royals, the development was heartbreaking. Having played the game with dignity and served Rajasthan Royals most professionally, his response was: “I am shocked, disappointed, and distressed by the events. Rajasthan Royals is a special team, where we have always operated like a family—so this is particularly devastating. Spot-fixing and corruption have hung over the game of cricket, and I know that the BCCI and RR take the same zero tolerance view of the situation. The RR owners and management have made their zero tolerance views clear on every possible occasion, and I am sure that they will support any action taken. For me, as a captain and leader, I have to focus on ensuring that the team fulfils its enormous potential and continues to play in the ‘Rajasthan Royals’ way. Our players are devastated.” The cricket authorities reacted on expected lines: “We will wait for the final results of the probe”; “will formulate stricter rules”; “will monitor the players closely”; “will introduce accreditation for the players’ agent”. To some extent, the Board was truly handicapped. It could not arrest the suspected players or tap their phones, but many former cricketers wondered what prevented the cricket authorities from monitoring the off-the-field activities organised by the franchisees.

“Look at how some of the icons of the game become slaves of their team owners during the IPL period,” said a former cricketer who had played for the national team. For Sreesanth to have succumbed to the lure of lucre was shocking. An immensely gifted bowler, he failed to focus on the game once success came his way. Even his teammates found him a difficult customer to handle and gradually he drifted away, became a loner and ultimately landed in the deceitful net of bookies.

As the controversy exposed more cricketers and bookies, various suggestions were made on the ways to tackle this menace. One of the punishments suggested was to expunge the game records of the players. There could not have been a more bizarre suggestion. “If you take away even one run or one wicket away from the said players’ records, what would happen to the result of the match? Would the match not be influenced? How can you remove one player’s record in a team game?” said a player.

The investigations will continue, but scandals like spot-fixing will not be curbed unless the government introduces a law to deal with it. Only strict punishment can put an end to corruption in cricket. The IPL may not be the only reason cricketers lose their way but the format certainly encourages spot-fixing. But as one senior Board official argued, “What can we do if the individual decides to sell himself. It is not possible to police every individual.” What is certainly possible is to educate the youngsters, and that is one exercise the Board has decided to undertake from the forthcoming season.

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