In its sixth season, with a week to go for the finals, the Indian Premier League was heading for a ripper finish. The stadiums were spilling over, TV ratings were off the graph, 10-second ads cost more than the starting salaries of IIM grads, there were preening owners and administrators everywhere. Twenty20 cricket, as we were being told ad nauseam, was the new cool. So it was all jumping japang, jampak, jampak when Shantakumaran Sreesanth of the Rajasthan Royals kissed his finger, crossed his heart and tucked a white towel in his blue pyjamas for his second over against Kings XI Punjab on Thursday, May 9, in Mohali.
A week later, though, he was being led off to a court in Delhi, head masked. Sree had allegedly, in collusion with cousin and bookie Jiju Janardhanan, done a bit of ‘spot-fixing’, giving away a predetermined number of runs in an over. Suddenly, for the second year in a row, the Indian cricket board’s cash cow was in danger of ending up in blazing infamy—and letting its unsuspecting fans and followers down.
The Delhi police had two other Royals in tow—Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan—fitted with similar headgear, all three booked under Section 420 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code. Which elaborated their crimes, no less. Their gains: Rs 20-60 lakh. Piddling stuff compared to the zillions being bilked by others in less colourful attire but if the arrests do not bring the full extent of the spot-fixing racket, the bloodlust of bookies, the greed of corrupt players and the betting-addicted cricket fans, then this small report which appeared in the Mumbai papers earlier last week might help. The teenaged son of a diamond merchant was killed in a kidnapping gone wrong. The perpetrator: his own cousin who had planned to recoup some Rs 30 lakh he had lost in betting on IPL matches through the ransom.
Sreesanth aside, the other two Royals do fit Paul’s description. But spectators who pay through their nose to go to stadiums and enthusiasts who sit through the night to watch might ask why all three—who were anyway making much more than most honest Indians—would fall for such dirty money, especially when the world is watching. One answer is: those who should are not watching closely enough. Another angle comes from Alam Srinivas, author of IPL: Cricket and Commerce, “Twenty20 has made it that much easier for players to fall prey. There are lots of youngsters in the IPL who may never feature in international or even regular first-class matches. So the IPL is a door opening to make some serious cash. Some captains may even have had a hunch as far as betting goes...but if they become whistle-blowers, then there’ll be too many questions directed at them.”
Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar at the press conference, May 16. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
Why IPL is ripe for fixers
Cut to 2012. Exactly a year before Sreesanth & co walked into the police dragnet, five uncapped players—Mohnish Mishra, Shalabh Srivastava, T.P. Sudhindra, Amit Yadav and Abhinav Bali—were suspended and then banned. Their crime: they were caught on hidden camera agreeing to bowl no-balls and spot-fix matches in a sting operation conducted by reporters of India TV, who posed as representatives of a sports management company. So it’s almost action replay: except that last week’s sting was done by the police, and that one of the three players suspended had played 27 Test matches and 53 ODIs. Sundar Raman, a former IPL functionary, was succinct in his condemnation: “Idiots.”
At one level, what the latest episode reveals is that player greed knows no limits. Former greats are justly incensed at this collapse of ethics and integrity. “We can’t say for sure they are guilty until proven so, but we do need to examine this tendency. Players get much more money even at Ranji level now, apart from whatever they earn in the IPL. So why do it? Are they built like that?” asks former player and selector Chandu Borde. Adds offspin legend E.A.S. Prasanna, “In our times, there wasn’t even any awareness about corruption. Yet such things didn’t happen. Now in every sport you are being watched, and everyone knows it. Still you want to do it. Well, God help you.”
In a TV commercial for Pepsi shortly after Sreesanth burst onto the scene, ‘scientist’ Dhoni watches the dancing, headphone-wearing medium pacer cavorting across the locker room. “Iski toh main abhi bhi samajh nahin paya (I haven’t understood him yet),” he says. In an odd sort of way, the mysteries of Youngistan are coming home to haunt today as a genuine talent, one of the few to emerge from the game’s backwaters in Kerala, faces criminal charges for stuffing a towel in his pocket in return for a lot of rupees.
Little wonder when the arrests became public on the morning after the Rajasthan Royals match against the Mumbai Indians, Sreesanth’s father was telling the Malayalam media that the bowler had been “tricked and trapped” in the spot-fixing scam. Sreesanth’s brother-in-law, singer Madhu Balakrishnan, went even further, alleging that the whole episode had something to do with Sreesanth reopening the ‘Slapgate’ controversy with Harbhajan Singh five years ago. And that it was all probably designed to stymie Sreesanth’s upcoming marriage.
Commentators and coaches say bookies often approach players at the local level, club cricket or Ranji. The contact or relationship is built over a period of time. In Sreesanth’s case, of course, the man was his own cousin, Jiju Janardhanan, a middling cricketer himself. Other cases may not involve family, but even then to track a player’s involvement in betting when he gets to the bigger leagues is quite difficult.
The peculiar nature of IPL—categorised as “profit-oriented business and entertainment”—also seems to be making it more complex. M.N. Singh wades in, “The matches are a big bazaar. I call it the epidemic of IPL, which has gripped the country. If the investigation is taken to its logical end, I am certain a lot more officials will be exposed.” Although the domestic fringe players have come under the scanner, almost everyone absolves the senior, big players like Dravid, Dhoni etc.
Protesters burn a Sreesanth poster in Ahmedabad, May 16
Y.P. Singh, former IPS officer and rights activist, agrees. “Without connivance, nothing happens. How is it that customers who want to place bets can find bookies but the cops can’t? Controllers of the racket may be outside (of India) but the police can easily nab the operatives in India. It is because critical people have been paid off that bookies act with such impunity and approach players,” he says.
So is it all downhill for the IPL from here? Brand experts feel that incidents like these, while causing an immediate feeling of vacuum in values, will finally pass. Says Indranil Das Blah of Kwan, “Any brand is like the stockmarket, it may take an immediate hit. But as long as it is not a systemic problem and one caused by just a few bad apples, the IPL will survive. It’s been hit much harder in the past and still survived.”
Brand experts believe the IPL brand has more or less settled down despite the many doubts in the last few years as to whether its flamboyance would be sustainable. But as IPL moved away from the Lalit Modi regime, much of that mellowed down. Says Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands, “There is a certain toning down of some of the excesses of the IPL from the time of Lalit Modi. At the same time, owner dominance is also less.”
Says lawyer Rahul Mehra, “The BCCI knows how deep- rooted the problem is.... It existed in the 1970s, aggravated in 2000 but reached a different level with the IPL. Sadly, the status quo is a convenient option. Indians have a short memory and everyone works around the system. Azharuddin’s life ban verdict was not challenged. Instead, he got a Congress ticket for the LS election. It’s fine to be a fixer, we’ll bring you back into the fold—that’s the message. It’s a free for all where self-regulation is an oxymoron. The phrase doesn’t exist.” Echoes Aniruddha Bahal of Cobrapost who co-authored the first match-fixing scam, “The BCCI isn’t at all serious about preventing betting. At a fundamental level, there’s a lot of illegality out there. And unless you legalise betting, the phenomenon will keep repeating itself. From day one, we needed a formal mentoring process which didn’t happen.”
By Prachi Pinglay-Plumber in Mumbai with Priyadarshini Sen and Arindam Mukherjee in Delhi
Speak to the organ grinder, not the monkey (Cricket’s a Sonofapitch, May 27). Can a bowler alone stage-manage the whole circus? What of the batsmen, fielders, umpires, managers, sponsors and the rest? The media has been one of the largest contractual beneficiaries in this game—playing both ends, and against the middle too.
K. Vijayan, Chennai
Blame the cellphone for this menace, which has stalked cricket from the Hansie Cronje-Azhar era. Where else do you hear of matches being fixed from the pavilion toilet?
C.K. Subramaniam, Mumbai
Since when was cricket betting-free, or for that matter, any major competitive big league sport? For god’s sake, stop this high-nosed tone of righteous indignation and let’s get on with the tamasha. Sreesanth and the other poor kids have been arrested only to salvage the sinking career of an incompetent big cop in Delhi. They must be immediately released and allowed to play whatever game they play, carry any number of towels in their pockets while playing...colour-coded, if necessary.
Manish Banerjee, Calcutta
Even after all this sordid mess, you still see thousands thronging the stadiums. It just goes to show the frustration levels of the average Indian, looking for any avenue to release their anxiety regarding the state of affairs in the country.
Saurabh Awasthi, Kanpur
For us pure cricket-lovers, this is agony, especially since it’s happened to the Dravid-captained Rajasthan Royals.
S.R. Gadicherla, Bangalore
From whatever has emerged till now, it’s logical to assume that a good many players may be compromised. Have other passages of play also been scripted by outside forces? Instead of acknowledging the possibility, the BCCI bosses are stuck on the ‘few rotten apples’ line.
Mohd Ziyaullah Khan, Nagpur
To paraphrase American journalist T.S. Mathews, our only recourse “is to damn it with the heaviest anathema known to the Indian soul”.
B.S. Bhatnagar, Gurgaon
Now is perhaps the time to also check on some of the performances of our ‘superstars’ from the 2011 World Cup.
Subbu Jayant, Mumbai
I am sure Sreesanth will be a Congress candidate, a la Azharuddin, in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, maybe from Kerala itself. Any bets on that?
H.N. Ananda, Bangalore
Why this eerie silence from another of our BCCI men, Arun Jaitley? With IPL headed by Rajeev Shukla of the Congress, we expected fireworks. But nary a word....
S.Y. Savur, Bangalore
The ‘pitch’ in your headline was, well, a rank turner.
H.N. Ramakrishna, Bangalore
This IPL should be renamed ‘Indian Parting League’, for Indians, if they have any sense, will say goodbye to it.
M.A. Raipet, Secunderabad
Whether fixed or not, IPL has been a great diversion from the daily dose of scams.
G. Neelakantan, Bangalore
When Polly Umrigar retired, he said that playing against Hall, Gibbs and Sobers was enough reward. We have now come to this, where even crores can’t stop a man’s greed.
S.S. Almal, Calcutta
Maybe Tata Sky was in on the betting. Their HD customers got the IPL on Channel 420.
N. Paul Jeyatilak, Chennai
Apropos your coverage of the spot-fixing scandal (Cricket’s a Sonofapitch, May 27), what I was most amazed at was Dhoni’s spinelessness at the May 29 press conference. A captain who cannot rise above personal considerations even so much as to condemn the scandal really does not have the moral fibre to lead the national team.
Raghu Nath Kohli, Delhi
For these last few days, it has seemed the country’s most pressing problems are the ones happening on and off the cricket field. Why are we obsessed with this game? We have much bigger problems staring us in the face. Wake up India, before it’s too late.
Sachin Bywar, Korba
The sad part in all this is that actual cricketers have little say in the working of the cricket board. That is fully the realm of the fixers, netas and shady industrialists.
Shanmugham Mudaliar, Pune
Who taught our young people that taking short-cuts, having no integrity and making money any which way are traits to be emulated? It’s our netas, business moguls and other sundry paragons of 'successful' life. So why blame these ipl bachchas?
L. Subramani, on e-mail
It’s just three people out of hundreds of cricketers who have turned out to be bad apples. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot and destroy this magnificent league.
Sanjay Ranade, on e-mail
We have had enough of this 24x7 fixing nonsense. Please grow up, media people. There’s a limit to the endurance of even fools like us!
T. Santhanam, on e-mail
IPL Chairman Rajeev Shukla should be taken into police custody for questioning
You know the real meaning of Meyappan in tamil- it means " Father of eternal truth ",
Modern day Meaiappans roam around with lady escorts and team of lawyers.
God give me a break
Indian Po r n League, that would be an apt name- See who were all involved actors, models who want break, call girls, lady escorts, cricket savvy ladies, veteran actresses.
Why this eerie silence from Shri Arun Jaitely, Ld Senior Advocate? Since IPL is headed by Rajiv Shukla of the UPA-II, we expected fire-works. But strange are the ways, what say Shri Jaitley? What are you afraid of - N. Srinivasan? Rajiv Shulka?
Hopefully, and if real big names are not involved, the investigating agencies would solve this case and the courts would then do their job. And whoever is guilty should face the music.
But the morality angle apart, i cannot see what the fuss is really about. Not the fact that a few well known names have been caught, but our surprise at the fixing part. (As KSC Nair's comment [http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?285469] so succinctly said: Al Capone did not attempt to read the Gospel to his followers.)
The other interesting thing that we might need to ponder about is the manpower and resources that the Delhi Police so meticulously employed over a month's time (per reports) to get to the bottom of the IPL fix. Granted that investigating agencies are responsible for pursuing all wrongdoing, so we might be a bit harsh if we were to accuse the DP of pursuing cases that are sensational, but this is the same DP under Mr. Neeraj Kumar who for a while have been citing shortage of manpower whenever questions regarding the safety of women on Delhi's streets are raised. Possibly not a comprehensive way to see this issue, but public perception is a reality.
And finally, has this really important national issue (purely judging by the coverage it is receiving) managed to push back the 'real' governance issues (the coal scam, the railway recruitment scam...) away from the media glare for a while? Was it intentional?
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