Real life has been slow in catching up. The moment the spot-fixing scandal broke, when the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was well underway to the latter stages, excited TV anchors, ratings-chasing channels and pundits bowing to populism, told us the whole story almost seamlessly: the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) was involved, Bollywood was involved, Dawood Ibrahim was the kingpin, team owners were involved and so on. Everyone, who was anyone, and had anything remotely to do with the IPL – or cricket it would seem – was involved. All this, without a shred of evidence or the slightest regard for either propriety or libel laws.
Yet, remarkably, this is the picture emerging from the almost hourly newsbreaks on the issue. The son-in-law of the BCCI President seems to be involved in betting on IPL matches, and by the time I finish writing this, a Bollywood connection or two might be revealed (and by the time you read this, maybe even a politician’s name).
Wink-wink, nudge-nudge journalism is at its best on some TV channels. The BCCI president (his name no longer Mr Srinivasan, but a more informal ‘Srini’) has made enough enemies in his tenure to keep at least one pot boiling. There is a difference between betting and spot-fixing, the one does not automatically imply the other, although only betting is, strictly speaking, illegal. But connections are being made all the time. Connections that may well exist but haven’t been proved in time for prime time television.
And the constant flashing of the picture of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s wife watching a match with Vindoo Dara Singh. What is that but pure mischief?
A team owner betting on the IPL is a version of insider trading, and is culpable under a different set of laws, but the selective leaks by the competitive police forces in Delhi and Mumbai may not be doing the case much good. Delhi’s top cop, so unaffected by the rape of a minor is visibly exercised over the question of spot-fixing. When did our cops become such camera whores? Mumbai’s top cop calls a press conference to read out one sentence in three languages when time and effort could have been saved by emailing the press release. If in the good times, the bad guys were on the IPL bandwagon, in bad times, it is the turn of the apparently good to jump on too.
Suddenly, bookies are coming out of the woodwork all over. Did the police not know of their activities, which have been illegal in this country for well over a century?
Figures are bandied about. One expert says that the volume of betting on the IPL is worth more than the nominal value of the IPL itself. Anything is possible if the price for bowling one dodgy over is Rs 40 lakh (some reports have claimed that the bowler was looking to up it to Rs 80 lakh the next time). Charts are drawn, crime webs are explained with the breathlessness that seems to be the major qualification needed to do such things.
There has been no time to sit back and reflect, so rapidly has the story moved forward. The gaps have been imaginatively filled. Mostly by factoids that make the viewers feel they knew it all along. Did S Sreeshanth really confess, as claimed exclusively by all channels? Is the fact that he has floated a company, which has as one of its stated aims the establishment of betting houses relevant? If he spent nearly Rs 2 lakh on clothes or bought a lady friend a phone or had pictures of models on his computer, is it anybody else’s business?
Hopefully, the investigating agencies will fare better than our television channels and firmly separate what is significant from what is merely incidental. The focus needs to shift from one-upmanship among the agencies. Recently the Andhra Pradesh High Court rapped the BCCI saying it had not bothered to build a strong enough case against former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin. It will be difficult enough to bring about a conviction in the absence of a specific law against spot-fixing without the court having to deal with procedural and other lags in the investigation.
All this churning, the exaggerations, the half-truths, the genuine patterns, might lead to a change in the BCCI’s attitude. That is the hope. For you cannot legislate against human greed, but you can force the BCCI to jettison its unstated motto and become more transparent and accountable.