Cricket is not only a sport close to practically every Indian's heart but also a subject which is spoken about reverentially by one and all regardless of class distinction, with pride and passion. It is not infrequently that one comes across instances when Cricket is raised to the dizzying heights of a modern popular religion in India. While talking about shared values of India and Australia in his recent address to the joint session of the Australian Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it a point to refer to the cricketing bonds that bring the two countries together. Wasn't it with a good deal of pride that he spoke about Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar in the same breath? How much more could you elevate a game which is but a legacy of a colonial power in a country which has much older and indigenous sports like Chess, Hockey and Wrestling to its own array of traditional games?
Advent of IPL
When the Indian Premier League (IPL) was launched in 2008 with much fanfare, cricket enthusiasts believed it symbolized a turning point in the history of Indian Cricket and would usher in great times for the game, players, teams, fans and every one genuinely connected with the sport. It was even believed that the tournament would provide a cutting edge to the Indian team vis-a-vis the rival overseas teams. It was like a carnival, with much joy and excitement in the air. The induction of foreign players into the various teams’ added verve to the riotous imagination of fans who fantasized about dream teams sans border. Teams were purchased in auctions for vast sums, making the annual tournament a real big ticket event. With a brand value upwards of $3 billion, and the total prize money given away to the winning team and the three runners up teams amounting to $400 million, IPL became commercially the most successful tournament in the world. Colossal sums were spent in sponsoring and related publicity activities.
The Slide and Fall
Despite the euphoria, and initial hoopla, things started going wrong rather suddenly and alarmingly, with rumours of scams rearing up their ugly head. Teams Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) got embroiled in serious allegations of spot fixing in IPL 2013 tournament. Three players of RR, namely Sreesanth, Ankeet Chauhan and Ajit Chandila, were suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and were arrested along with eleven bookies for alleged involvement in spot fixing. They were booked on charges of fraud, cheating, and criminal conspiracy.
Gurunath Meiyappan, variously described as the public face of the CSK franchise, the team principal, CSK's representative at auctions and team owners' meetings and, above all, the son-in-law of N.Srinivasan, MD of India Cements, owners of CSK, was arrested on charges of cheating, forgery and fraud. He was interrogated by the police in connection with his frequent telephone talks with Virender 'Vindoo Dara' Singh, a small-time Bollywood actor arrested earlier for alleged contacts and links with bookies. He was suspended by BCCI from any cricketing activities and any involvement with CSK. However, Srinivasan's position as BCCI President, and de facto owner of CSK, became highly untenable in the matter of a BCCI investigation into the scam involving his son-in-law. Under mounting pressure, an unwilling and reluctant Srinivasan stepped aside as President of BCCI, until the commission appointed to conduct an inquiry into the betting and spot fixing scheme completed its findings. However, he continued to represent BCCI at ICC. Politician Rajiv Shukla resigned, on his part, from his post as Chairman, IPL. A 2 - member panel of high court judges constituted by BCCI absolved Raj Kundra and India Cements, owners of RR and CSK respectively, of all charges. The panel's finding was, however, struck down by Bombay High Court on the grounds that the panel had been illegally constituted and mandated BCCI to investigate the matter afresh. BCCI appealed against Bombay High Court's ruling in the Supreme Court and the appeal was challenged by Cricket Association of Bihar. The Supreme Court constituted a 3-member panel, headed by former High Court Judge Mukul Mudgal, to investigate the corruption charge. The Court recommended that Srinivasan step down as Chairman, BCCI, since his continuance in that post was "nauseating" for Cricket.
Mudgal Committee Report
The Mudgal Committee stated in its report submitted to the Supreme Court that IPL had committed many misdemeanors and named Srinivasan, Gurunath Meiyappan, IPL Chief Executive Sundar Raman, and Raj Kundra. The committee, however, cleared the three players accused of involvement in corrupt practices. The Supreme Court has directed Srinivasan and the other three persons to appear in the court for a hearing scheduled for 24 November this year.
The Mudgal Committee report cleared Srinivasan of charges on account of betting, match fixing and spot fixing as well as the allegation that he tried to scuttle investigations into the scam. However, it found fault with him for overlooking violation of code of conduct by an unnamed player. The panel indicted Meiyappan and Raj Kundra for betting. As regards Sundar Raman, the report stated that he knew the contact of a bookie and was in touch with him as many as eight times in one season. The report also stated that Raman knew that Meiyappan and Kundra were involved in betting.
IPL Muddied and Sullied
IPL has been muddied and sullied about in no small measure by the sport administrators, politicians, players, team owners, their associates, mighty industry barons, their no-good relatives and cronies besides the sport mafia which pass in the name of bookkeepers and middlemen. And let us not forget the glamour quotient provided by film stars, starlets and their lapdogs, all of whom were out to bask in the reflected glory of the game, make quick bucks, steal the media glare, make it to the list of socialites and celebs and generally have a good time. To cut a long story short, except for a small number of dedicated players and those individuals among the sport administrators required to organize matches and take care of the logistics, the others could be dismissed for what they are - limpets and parasites. But, wait! You just can't write them off. For they are the high and mighty in the sport and social circles. They live off the game, and make murky deals with shoddy characters and anti-social elements like tax dodgers and black money hoarders who double up as conduits for terrorists and smugglers that creep out of the woodwork when the focus of the media and sport lovers and fans is on the real heroes of the game. With the exception of the few players who are genuinely interested in and are dedicated to the game and play for the love for the game and the glory of the country, quite a few of the mediocre and out-of-form players struggling hard for getting into or retain their positions in the team, play into the hands of such unscrupulous elements and allow themselves to be manipulated to commit the ultimate sins of the game - match fixing and spot fixing! Sometimes, big time players who are looked up to by generations of cricket loving youngsters and aspiring cricketers as their heroes also succumb to the lure of the mammon or fall prey to the black mail tactics of the cricket mafia. When the genuine appreciation and affection showered by fans, especially the female ones, on cricketing heroes exceeds admissible norms and borders on ecstatic exultation and limitless adulation, green horn cricketers who are particularly young, immature and lack strong cultural moorings and familial bonds, allow success to go to their head, and very often to the nether regions too! Such anchorless vessels tend to stray away from the safe shores of the glorious game which made them cult figures in the first place and allow themselves to become victims of piracy.
Cricket being a game of glorious uncertainties, no one who is not an insider with a ringside view of the murky deals or nefarious goings on could smell a rat when a match fixing or spot fixing operation is carried out. As such operations are carried out by hard core criminal elements and professional swingers with a number of middle men thrown in to form a long chain of manipulators, even when a probe is carried out to investigate into the illegal practices and other irregularities adopted for match fixing or spot fixing, the trail often goes cold after certain stage. This is exactly what happened with the spot fixing scam of IPL2013. Evidence was hard to come by to the relief of the guilty and discomfiture of the multitudes of cricket fans.
Time for Retrospection
Now that the Mudgal Committee report has been submitted to the Supreme Court and the court has issued notices to the persons named in it, namely N.Srinivasan, Gurunath Meiyappan, Sundar Raman and Raj Kundra to appear at the next hearing on 24 November, the country is waiting with bated breath for the final outcome of the biggest scam of any sporting event in India. Notwithstanding the court ruling which would be based on the adequacy or non-adequacy of available evidence, it is high time the persons named by the report for involvement in the scam did some soul searching. Haven't they harmed already the sport of all sports in India? Haven't they taken the trusting fans and the naive public at large for a ride? Haven't they used Cricket as a shirtfront for their selfish, nefarious activities? Is the lucre of money or position in the governing board and its trappings bigger than their love, if any, for the game? Doesn't a slur on their image or reputation matter a whit?
If they are found guilty by the court, they would be damned. If the court finds them not guilty and they still cling on to their positions, they would be doomed in the eyes of the public. Shouldn't they renounce their positions and move on in life? If Caesar's wife must be above suspicion, what about these lesser mortals? Are they going to set up an example by scrupulously following the norms of propriety in public life, at least at this late stage, or do unto Cricket what Cain did unto Abel and go around with the Mark of Cain on their face or carry the Curse of Cain on their head for the remainder of their lives?
Speed and Spin
Prime Minister Modi said in his speech to the joint session of the Australian Parliament that Indians are impressed by Australian speed as Australians are charmed by Indian spin. Well, the people of India are impressed by the speed with which the dramatis personae of the IPL scam had put a charming spin to Indian Cricket!