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Welcome to the Indian Punters League
A great brand, built courtesy top-notch 5-star execution is now threatened by the heady cocktail of gangsters, filmstars and cricketers. Not all of this has to do with greed.
I WOKE UP on a Thursday evening with my worst nightmares coming true. Now, why should I be sleeping at 5 pm on a working day is beside the point.What was important was that the country’s rage, its top multi-million dollar baby, the Indian Premier League, aka the IPL, was coming apart.

And to me the nightmares were back.

They had first come almost 15 years ago, in 1999. Those were the pre 24x7 news channel days.  The morning’s newspaper headline on Page 1 had screamed in big, bold, black letters “Md. AZHARUDDIN BANNED FOR LIFE.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. “OMG,” I told myself. “Why? Why he? Why he of all people?”

After all,the touch artiste was widely revered the world over. He was one of India’s finest ambassadors, a gentleman to a fault. He had risen from the rags. He was a national icon. He had money, respect, and everything going his way. Why, God why, did he “Haan, maine match banaya.” Yes, it was devastating; but somewhere along the line it had to be accepted.

But we are getting ahead of the story.

Long before the BCCI banned Azhar, when I had first heard and later read in a magazine that cricket matches were fixed, I had told myself that all this was rubbish. I told anyone who was within earshot that no one would throw a match playing for India. And definitely not a cricket match.

As later events showed or as we were made to see, I was proved horribly wrong. Forget about being a fan. Forget about cricket being a religion and cricketers being demi-gods. Even if you have played cricket at some level, it would hurt you like nothing else has.

Act 1, Scene 2:

15 years later, the nightmares are back.
This time, thus far, it has nothing to do with a charismatic captain or an iconic player. This time it has to do with a maverick who by all accounts seems to have as of now indulged in spot fixing, that could have lead to match losing.

Forget the other two named in the scandal. After all, they are not household names. They may have been talented but they have not played for India. But what about Sreesanth? Greg Chappell had words of highest praise for him. He believed that he had loads of talent; was amongst the very best in the modern generation and that he could swing the ball better then Dennis Lillee himself. Later, Sreesanth showed that he could hit sixes as well. And that he could dance in style. But he was  a flawed talent.

You don’t throw tantrums when you play the game at the highest level; atleast not if you are an Indian. Aggression is not about screaming, raving and ranting on the ground. Those are reserved for anchors glowing in self-importance. Aggression is about the mind; about the single-minded devotion to win in the face of grave odds. When Harbhajan Singh gave Sreesanth  a stinging slap, no one really sympathised with the Mallu although people didn’t take kindly to Bhajji’s foolhardiness.

It’s sad that just for that extra money, at a time when IPL was paying him money by the ton, he should have sold his soul. It’s sad that he should have done this in the backdrop of a few Pakistani players not only having been caught but also been imprisoned and having served sentences for spot fixing. It’s sad that he had done this while playing under a role model like Rahul Dravid.  And after having been part of the same dressing room as Sachin Tendulkar. If he was trapped into it, well he was trapped with his eyes wide open.

When the Gods want to punish you, they first let you go mad.

The fallout is catastrophic. Now even the most innocuous of misses, the perfectly strategic cricketing moves that have gone wrong are raising doubts in people’s mind. Like, how could Kohli drop a sitter? Like, why did Dhoni drop himself so down the order in the match against Mumbai? The loss of innocence is not the best thing to happen.

Act 2, Scene 1

There are many things that haven’t been good with cricket. While I am a die-hard fan of market economy, I believe that when money is allowed to count to the exclusion of everything else, doom is never far away. The moment cricket stopped being pure cricket and became a combination of conflicts of interest, Bollywood, scantily dressed cheer-girls, late night parties and women anchors with nary a knowledge of cricket you invited trouble with a capital T.

To say we must junk IPL is plain foolish. Corruption is there in all walks of life. We don’t throw out parliamentarians merely because politics is rocked with scandals. We don’t throw out democracy because we have some very communal parties. We don’t throw journalism into the trash can because there are private treaties and paid news.  

The IPL has been a great brand. IPL 6 has had some great moments. Like, Gayle’s 175, Miller’s 103, Pollard’s 68, Sachin’s 48 and Dhoni’s cameos. There have been some breathtaking fielding efforts and out-of-the-world catches that have showcased the athletic skills of players.

If we are serious about cricket:

I guess the Board is serious about cricket. It had better be. For its milch cow. For that we need to do a number of things.
  • Put an end to conflict of interest. You cannot have a BCCI president as the chairman of a company that is an IPL franchise. Yes, he might be maintaining a Chinese wall of secrecy, but Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. You cannot have a chief of selectors as a team’s ambassador. You cannot have commentators paid by the BCCI.
  • Get hold of Lalit Modi. The fugitive could sing like a canary. He has a lot to answer for.
  • Drop the cap on the salary of the uncapped player. If a one-match India player can go under the hammer for upwards of Rs 7 crore why should there be a limit of Rs 30 lakhs to what an uncapped player can draw? By persisting with this foolhardiness you are creating angst amongst players. By withdrawing the limit, you would bring in fairness which might reduce the incidence of greed.
  • While it is a franchisee’s funeral in terms of how many people travel with it, a huge cavalcade of players and support staff travelling hardly makes for sense. In a match that can at best involve 11 players why have close to 25 travelling?
  • Do away with the strategic time out. It has only turned out to be strategic time planning for the bookies. Yes, football has a half time at the end of 45 minutes. T-20 has its half time after 90 minutes. That should do.
  • The courts should punish the guilty in the on-going spot fixing scandal. It should be swift. And exemplary. Everyone, howsoever high or mighty, found to have partaken in the scam should be made an example of.
  • It’s time for the government to legalise cricket betting. When you can have horse racing, lottery sale and derivative trading in place, why not cricket betting? Legalising will bring everything into the open. To that extent it could bring 30 per cent of the profits to the national kitty.  If you think that it would be rigged the way it’s rigged now, well horse racing, lottery and equity markets are also rigged.
What we need are checks and balances; not throwing the baby along with the bath water. That IPL 6 will be remembered for bringing back the stench of match fixing to cricket is sad. But life has to go on.  

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