The BCCI was quick to suspend five players caught in the spot-fixing scandal. But it has turned a blind eye to the larger malaise of corruption plaguing the IPL
By Sanjay Jha
FINDING CONTROVERSY with the Indian Premier League (IPL) has never been an arduous task; they usually arrive with much cacophony and conviviality on a red carpet at your doorstep. Right now, they are in a rambunctious celebratory mood, courtesy a sting operation by India TV channel that shows various relatively nondescript (to the “average viewer”) players making lurid confessions about spot-fixing. Among them is TP Sudhindra, who was the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy in the 2011-12 season.
Twenty20 has given birth to a new hybrid, the ‘instant IPL superhero’; this super-beefed muscular lad has no ambitions to earn the coveted national cap, he just wants a few seasons of IPL frenzy. IPL gives him windfall earnings, local stardom, media access, several brands on his luminous jersey and, if lucky, even a Bollywood arm candy. Given the mercurial nature of the game, just one or two stunning knocks, or an acrobatic dive can create that transitory titan overnight. After all, an hour of fame is worth a lifetime without a name, right? But there are risks.
The players are subject to irrational unpredictability; the best example is Paul Valthaty, who was a headline-grabber for Kings XI Punjab last year, and is now twiddling his thumbs in his suburban Mumbai home watching IPL on a television screen. Kamran Khan is picking hay in his brother’s farm; just the other day he was in the august company of Shane Warne in plush five-star comfort. The youngsters are aware that IPL is a dicey mid-cap stock. They know they are susceptible. And so do the wily fixers.
The BCCI has suspended five players, but shouldn’t they have first axed or at least probed the franchise owners guilty of illegal cash payments to attract innocent players? If IPL could suspend Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey for shopping around, why the charitable disposition towards Sahara Pune Warriors and Kings XI Punjab for dubious underhand deals and contract violations? And isn’t that symptomatic of a larger malaise: if everybody is doing it (as alleged), then it is not a surreptitious practice, just an unwritten code among scrupulous thieves.
BCCI chief N Srinivasan, who is battling conflict-of-interest issues, has no right to moral grandstanding. This ostrich-like attitude smacks of gargantuan arrogance or maybe incurable myopia. Either way, Indian cricket stares at hard times. In an economy saturated by black money, obliterating corruption will not be a cakewalk. Besides sensitisation programmes and exposure to the wicked ways of the nefarious mafia, like honeytraps, we need transparent disclosure of player assets and lie-detector tests. An independent anti-corruption unit headed by an ombudsman will help, as will registered agents who meet a stringent qualifying criteria. Most importantly, one needs a whistleblower protection system, because it is the fixer’s colleagues who are usually the first to smell the fishy stuff.
Ideally, this was the perfect time for the BCCI to lead global cricket; after all, India commands 75 percent of financial marketshare. Instead, we function like a banana republic milking the cash cow of cricket to its bare bones. The IPL brand, long tarnished by former commissioner Lalit Modi’s misdemeanors, is facing further downward relegation. Given the peculiar BCCI structure, its political stranglehold is inextricable. Large funds attract greedy patrons, so despite personal misgivings, virtually all political parties collectively coalesce to control its abundant riches. No one wants to sign the National Sports Development Bill as it will mean coming under RTI. Transparency and accountability are two terms that are considered singularly bizarre by masquerading mandarins.
The five players caught in the sting will be history soon. They are pawns, sacrificial lambs who must meet a bloody end. The cosy club of crony capitalists, the real Shatranj ke Khiladi headed by the unctuous BCCI head honcho himself, will come up with standard pontifications. Life will go on. And everyone will say, bring on the cheerleaders.
(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)
Sanjay Jha Author, columnist and founder, cricketnext.com