Despite the spot-fixing shame, the IPL show must go on
The scandal points to the need for cleansing the IPL culture, but it's no reason to pull down the entire edifice. The IPL is still a platform for talent-spotting, and retains enormous entertainment value that cannot be robbed by a few charlatans.
For a cricketer of at best middling talent, being part of an IPL franchise is about as good as it gets. Forget foolish romanticism about playing for the the greater glory of the game: there's pots of money to be made - legitimately - on the IPL gravy train. And even better, it gives you a chance to showcase your talent in a way that can lead to even more lucrative advertising endorsement contracts.
It's entirely possible, as Thursday's expose of the spot-fixing scandal surrounding three Rajasthan Royals players has shown, that you may make Rs 60 lakh merely to throw one over - and the additional exertion of tucking a towel into your trousers as a sign to the bookies to line up their bets. That may seem like easy money for jam, but it was always a high-risk enterprise - one that could, as even a schoolboy cricketer knows today, lead to imprisonment, a life ban - and the ignominy of seeing your name tarnished for eternity (unless, of course, you can reinvent yourself as a politician, in the way that some tainted cricket stars of yesteryear have done).
Just the fact of being paraded for news cameras, their faces covered in black hoods, in the way that S Sreesanth, Anket Chavan and Ajit Chandila were on Thursday, should be mortifying in itself for anyone who came into the game in search of fandom and fortune. For men who wanted to covert in dance-shows and otherwise savour the good life and the glamour that inevitably comes with the game today, it's about as unedifying a comeuppance as it can get.
Which is why it's hard to concur with those who argue, with the noblest of intentions, that the three players at the centre of the scandal - Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila - were somehow representative of the entire IPL culture, and that therefore the entire IPL circus should be made to pull down its tent and leave town. Or even that somehow these "boys" were innocent small-towners who ought to have been mentored into knowing right from wrong.
When it came right down to it, these three men knew they were committing an egregious crime that would, in the light of recent instances of imprisonment of (and life-bans on) the black sheep in white flannels, lead perhaps to prison - and most certainly to infamy. And yet, they chose to risk their reputation and the prospect of future fortunes on one turn of pitch-and-toss, so to speak.
And in this day and age of excessive electronic surveillance, it's far harder to thread the needle - and carry on BB Messenger and What'sApp chats with bookies and even make physical contact with them to collect the payoffs - than it was in earlier times.
And unlike in politics, where Ministers can disown their nephews who have been caught taking bribes on their behalf, and even bend the CBI investigations in order to exonerate them, cricketers without godfathers who are cavorting with criminals have got their risk-reward equation all wrong.
Wry social media commentators have noted - only half in jest - that in this particular case, it is the bookies who are consummate fools. Sreesanth, they point out, didn't really need to be paid Rs 60 lakh to throw an over; his own mediocre talent would have ensured that for free. But, of course, what the bookies were paying big money for was the certainty of a full toss - at a time of their choosing.
Even so, if the bookies were paying the threesome to ensure that Rajasthan Royals didn't make it to the playoff stage - as some media accounts have it - the final outcome shows that particularly in a format as fickle as T20 cricket, you can only do so much to change the destiny of a team. For every Sreesanth or a Chandila, there's also a Rahul Dravid or a Shane Watson who can change the cricketing karma of their team with their individual prowess. If that doesn't reinforce your faith in the tarnished game today, I don't know what will.
There is, of course, much that is wrong with the IPL ecosystem. The blatant conflict of interest that allows the BCCI president to wear an additional hat as the owner of an IPL franchise speaks volumes about the high threshold for impropriety that is tolerated in India. Another such franchise owner is battling stock market regulators on his shadowy corporate affairs; yet another is using his IPL engagement as a glamorous diversion from his crashlanded airline company.
But all these are symptomatic of a larger Indian failing, and while they scream out loud for a cleansing of the IPL culture, it's no reason to pull down the entire edifice. It is still a platform for talent-spotting, and retains enormous entertainment value that cannot be taken away by a few charlatans. As cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle observed on Thursday, it's just as perverse to ask for the public distribution system to be wound down in its entirety because some people abuse it.
There's just one other aspect of the entire episode that is profoundly moving: the mental devastation of Rajasthan Royals' skipper Rahul Dravid that was manifest in his appearance before television cameras on Thursday. That such perfidy should have gone on under so distinguished a cricketer - who elevates the game with his conduct both on and off the field - is doubly tragic. If the uncertain world of cricket were a morality play, his team players should - from here onwards - play beyond their themselves and win this IPL round for their captain.
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