CORRUPTION IN cricket can take many forms. You can accept money to underperform. Or you can bet on the side of which you are the CEO/principal/ honorary member/enthusiast. Or you can hang on to your chair as president of the national body, which is holding an inquiry. That the Indian Premier League (IPL) was made for dodgy business was clear five years ago when conflict of interest, big money, Bollywood, lack of context and the essential grab-and-run philosophy of the tournament was on display.
Yet there is no joy in being proved right. What happens now? Is there hope for cleansing the system? The odds are that a year from now the same faces, the same systems, the same lack of concern for the sport will continue to dominate. Cynical, perhaps. But there are no knights in shining armour on the horizon just yet.
TV channels have been screeching and exaggerating, but they have played a key role in keeping the focus on the story. They have made it difficult for officials to ignore the rat-a-tat of the questions over 24- hour cycles. But soon fatigue will set in. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is counting on that. As they are counting on India doing well in the Champions Trophy in England this month. If they win, then (to mix metaphors), all the skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard will be swept under the carpet. They are counting too on the impending General Election to take the focus away from them soon enough.
Above all, they are counting on the essential nature of the cricket board, which operates through compromise and blackmail. It does not take a genius to figure out what the trade-off will be. According to its own Code of Conduct, Chennai Super Kings have crossed a line with the admission that their top official (or highest-ranked enthusiast) has been involved in betting. Any other team would have been banned. It is possible that CSK might be too. But for now, it is a bargaining chip.
The board president will be told that he has to choose between retaining his seat and seeing his team dissolve. Despite an almost child-like eagerness to jettison anyone who threatens to rob him of his chair, chances are that his IPL team may be a compromise too far. Hence the trade-off: the price of CSK retaining their slot in the IPL would be the resignation of Narayanswami Srinivasan. Already, at the time of writing, a Congress minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has called for his resignation. Others will too, once they understand that Srinivasan will go anyway, and this is a good opportunity to earn some brownie points, and maybe even claim credit.
Srinivasan’s intransigence has kept the focus away from Rajiv Shukla, the chairman of the IPL, who should have resigned too, accepting moral responsibility. In the shadow of the media rain on Srinivasan’s parade, Shukla was left free to do what he does best as one of the leading troubleshooters (a fancy word meaning ‘political fixer’) in Delhi. He tried to rally the troops against Srinivasan, his erstwhile buddy, but failed to garner the numbers. Arun Jaitley, who will be the next board president anyway, was not too keen on showing his keenness, and Sharad Pawar saw which way the wind was blowing and kept out of it.
It is possible that Shukla himself nurses the ambition to be board president. I once joked to an international player that he should prepare to see Shukla as the president of the International Cricket Council (ICC) soon. The player called me back a few days later and said, “I haven’t been able to sleep since you planted that thought in my head.”
What is the guarantee that Srinivasan’s replacement will be any better? Srinivasan has a cricketing connection at least. His India Cements continues to run teams in the Tamil Nadu league, and has been a presence for many decades now, employing cricketers, both established and youngsters with promise. If Shukla has a cricketing connection, that is a secret.
Nothing changed after the match-fixing saga of 13 years ago. Our continued refusal to learn from history means that we are condemned to repeat it.