Ravi Shastri, think again before you call cricket a game of glorious uncertainties tonight. For today’s ‘Halla Bol’ disclosures made by the Delhi Police have effectively proved that there is nothing glorious or uncertain about the Indian Premier League (IPL). If the cops are to be believed, the bookie-player jugalbandi has ensured that every ball, every run, every over can be fixed on the spot in the Indian Paisa League. All you need is a towel!
The Delhi Police have truly been the real Delhi Daredevils this IPL season, unearthing what many believe is a routine happening in every IPL. Thanks to the nature of the game, it is next to impossible to pinpoint a dollar-induced miss-hit or a dropped catch or a no-ball from a genuine blunder on the field. But if the sleuths are to be believed, the rigour in tracking and recording phone calls and messages, and juxtaposing the deals with what happened on the field, has given them a fair idea of the spot fixing that some of the cricketers were indulging in. Three of them belonged to Rajasthan Royals, among them international Test cricketer Sreesanth. Every time the Jaipur side played against a stronger team, commentators dubbed it a Dravid vs Goliath battle. Little did skipper Rahul Dravid know there were three Brutus’ in his side.
But this is not the first time that a bat and ball wielding Brutus has been exposed on the cricket pitch. Last year too, a television channel’s sting had exposed the role of cricketers in nefarious on-field deeds during the IPL. Five cricketers were suspended by the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI) from all formats of the game but clearly that sordid saga from IPL5 was a case of raat gayi baat gayi in IPL6.
If the bookies have taken a fascination to spot-fixing in the abridged T20 format of the game, rewind a decade back when match-fixing was more in vogue. Indian cricket saw a churning when many of its idols were pushed off the pedestal the fans had put them on. In 2000, Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin along with all-rounders Ajay Sharma, Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar were named in the match-fixing racket, accused of selling their soul while playing for the country. In that era of antiquated technological support, corroborative evidence was hard to come by, and just about all of them got away without the kind of punishment these three cricketers are likely to face. That is, a stint behind bars.
Then in the face of damning disclosures by disgraced South African skipper Hansie Cronje, Azhar had accused his critics of targeting him because he was a Muslim. That was indeed a low point in the history of Indian cricket that a player who had risen to the top, fell back on his religion to defend himself from an allegation. After a CBI probe, while Azhar and Ajay Sharma were banned for life, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Jadeja were banned for five years (subsequently reduced to three years). Today, most of these gentlemen cricketers have rehabilitated themselves suitably. Jadeja is a commentator with several Television networks who think nothing of his tainted past while Azhar has been elected as an MP from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh on a Congress ticket.
The post-Azhar era in Indian cricket saw the fabulous five of Indian cricket coming to the fore – Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble – in what was a period of playing for the country in word and spirit. It was a Herculean task for the team to come up trumps against all odds, especially when the suspicious public smelt a rat in every dismissal or an expensive over.
The IPL, when it burst on the scene in 2008, was always seen as a format that was a bookie’s delight. A billion dollar baby, that was a blend of cricket and glamour, with too much happening for the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit to keep track. Many young cricketers who burst on the scene with sheer talent were potential prey for the eagles who sold to them dreams of making big money in one summer. That has precisely what has happened with Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila. The former reportedly made Rs 60 lakh for bowling one bad over, with the latter playing middleman, while Sreesanth got Rs 40 lakh for ruining his team’s chances in one over in another match.
There is no team loyalty. Sreesanth for instance, has played for Kings XI Punjab, Kochi Tuskers and Rajasthan Royals since the IPL began in 2008. His international career is almost finished, thanks to a spate of injuries and bad attitude on the field. The bookies obviously take advantage of such fringe players who think they can get away with murder. There is also no guilt factor of going against your country’s interests. IPL by being defined as cricket plus entertainment makes it easier for the players to justify such misdemeanors.
But again, Sreesanth is not the first case of a cricketer past his prime playing with fire. Similar allegations have been levelled against some bowling greats in the past but not substantiated with concrete evidence.
If the fans in India and abroad are feeling cheated, it is understandable. It is time those in charge put systems in place that insulate young cricketers – both Indian and overseas – from unscrupulous elements during the course of the IPL. If players get away by doing this during the IPL, it will only embolden the entire network to do the same during games involving the national team.
It is not enough for the The BCCI to express shock and disbelief. While visible action needs to be taken against Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila, that would be merely dealing with the symptoms. A lot of what happens in several IPL matches has always looked suspicious. The administrators of the game owe it to the spectators that they ensure a clean game unless they want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs.