You don't have to check the ballast to see if a ship is keeling over and sinking: the rats that begin trooping out will confirm it for you just fine.
When the IPL cruise ship hit an iceberg with the sensational arrest of three Rajasthan Royals players last fortnight, it was possible to delude ourselves into believing that this was an inconsequential aberration, and that the sturdy ocean liner would sail along just fine. But steadily, with each passing day, the seaworthiness of the IPL loveboat is being called into question.
Today, the sleaze trail of bookies (and booze and babes) is leading, from all accounts, right up to the doors of the proximate family of Indian cricket's topmost administrator. On Thursday, a Mumbai Police team turned up at the Chennai home of Chennai Super King CEO Gurunath Meiyappan, who is the son-in-law of BCCI president N Srinivasan, and served notice on him to turn up and account for his connections with Vindoo Dara Singh, an accused in the spot-fixing scandal.
Meiyappan isn't yet an accused in the case: he is being merely asked to submit himself for questioning. And to be fair, both his paternal family, which owns a big-banner Tamil cinema production house, and Vindoo's father, the legendary Dara Singh, had organic professional links that bind the next generation as well. But just the fact that the Mumbai Police has dug out circumstantial evidence of potentially incriminating phone conversations between Meiyappan and Vindoo - and are now closing in for the kill - has set off a death-rattle of skeletons in commodious cricketing cupboards.
All this has been enough to send the moneybags, which grease the tracks of the IPL, scurrying for cover. The IPL's title sponsor PepsiCo is evidently so concerned about the steady stream of sleazy stories associated with the cricket carnival that it has served notice on the BCCI that it wishes to dissociate itself from the IPL. The Indian Express reports, citing top officials at PepsiCo as well as the BCCI as saying that the company, which paid nearly Rs 400 crore for the title rights for five years, is looking to pull the plug following concerns about the "possible negative rub-off on its brand image" arising from the spot-fixing scandal.
This comes barely days after Sahara withdrew its Pune Warriors India franchise citing ongoing problems with the BCCI.
Money was always the oxygen that kept the IPL carnival in full flow. So long as the money wheels continued to spin, it may have been possible to pretend that all was well with the IPL - and that the show, for all its freaky nature, must go on. But once the lucrative lubricant that greases the tracks of the IPL gravy train runs out, the squeaky wheels are at risk of coming unhinged. So devalued is the IPL brand equity today that it would take immense corporate courage for any established brand to be associated with it.
To the extent that the BCCI, starting from its president downwards, has been impervious to long-running demands to clean up their act - because it only understands the language of money - PepsiCo's threat to pull the plug could serve as a kick in the butt for the BCCI to clean up its act. Even given the extraordinary inventiveness of the cricket board administrators, no longer may it be possible for them to rearrange the deck-chairs on board the IPL ocean liner and pretend that the iceberg that it hit was of no consequences.
The ship is taking water, and the big-money sponsors are trooping out. Unless the IPL circus cleans up its act, it will have to fold up its tents and leave town in ignominy.