A cross-section of views

Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinathat the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Srinath says, "All I know is that the game is bigger than all this and will go on."-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

At hand here are two questions: 1. Are individual players guilty of accepting money to underperform? 2. Are outcomes pre-decided? Although there could be overlap the two issues must not be collated, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

S. G. Narasimha knows a thing or two about cricket. At 82, he has seen or heard or read of it all. He was a dewy-eyed eight-year-old when Walter Hammond's Englishmen racked up 903 at the Oval, a year before the war. As a teenager he lived through the newspapers India's first tour of the antipodes, where Bradman's Invincibles handed us a 4-0 beating. Through his adult life he has unceasingly followed India's fortunes, often with delight, sometimes dismay and generally not a little frustration. So when he says the IPL seems artificial, you listen. “It's not the format or the money or the sideshows. I just get that feeling.”

Narasimha is not alone in his unease. Although nothing has yet been substantiated, the ‘spot-fixing' allegations that have this month struck the IPL have deepened long-held suspicion among Indian cricket fans. The raft of last-over thrillers has also — rightly or wrongly — sparked extensive debate. “I could be wrong but I just feel there is an effort to artificially create excitement,” says Narasimha. To a tournament gradually losing appeal, recent developments will have come as a disappointing blow.

At hand here are two questions: 1. Are individual players guilty of accepting money to underperform? 2. Are outcomes pre-decided? Although there could be overlap the two issues must not be collated. Rumours of match-fixing have for long circulated around the IPL. The format of the game perhaps makes rigging easier for in a 20-over innings one dropped catch or one over of long hops can have a substantial bearing on the result. The allegations against Shalabh Srivastava, T. P. Sudhindra, Mohnish Mishra, and Amit Yadav — although yet unfounded — are disturbing because they have planted seeds of doubt.

“These are not any big names,” says Rakesh Reddy, a keen RCB supporter and a regular at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. “So I don't think it will have any impact on the IPL's popularity. There will be damage to the league's credibility only if some established players are found to be involved. Then people will think it's rampant.”

This season of the IPL has been one of the most evenly contested yet. With the exception of the top and bottom sides, no hierarchy has really crystallized. Ten matches have been decided on the last ball, with a total of 19 fixtures going down to the final over. Teams that are cruising suffer inexplicable collapses only to mount a dramatic late recovery.

Former Crickter Kirti Azad, now an MP, protests against the IPL ouside the Ferozshah Kotla ground on May 20.-SANDEEP SAXENA

“The problem is, the IPL really is make-believe,” a disgruntled user remarks on an internet message board. “I love the format, the stadiums, the kit, the skills. But games are being contrived to get close finishes. I've heard too much evidence from police in Mumbai and the people providing services to the IPL. MI's game (versus) RCB the other day, they were 50 odd for 5 chasing 170. I turned it off (because) I knew it was fixed. Sure enough, MI won it. It has become embarrassing and insulting.”

Others, though, see such an attitude as being deeply cynical. To them this profusion of tight conclusions is a mere statistical freak. “You simply cannot cook up last-ball finishes,” says Renjith Menon, a civil engineer from Bangalore. “There are too many things you cannot control. What if there's an edge or the batsman misses? And how many players can you buy?”

The argument is not without merit. True it was a rank full toss but Dwayne Bravo's six off the last ball could easily have been miscued; Dwayne Smith's three successive fours off Ben Hilfenhaus could never have been performed to a certainty; and surely nobody could script those shots AB de Villiers plays.

“There is no end to what we can imagine,” says former India and Karnataka opener Sujith Somasunder. “These close finishes take place because the format is such; plus the teams are evenly matched. If you want to doubt the authenticity of the IPL you'll do it anyway. You don't need last ball finishes for that.” Somasunder believes that popularity of the IPL will not suffer as a result of this or the spot-fixing controversy. “People are still interested. If anything, more of them will tune in to see if they can actually find some signs of fixing!”

The last word should perhaps be left to Javagal Srinath. “The IPL has witnessed thrilling matches and there is a huge amount of hype around it but as for the latest controversy affecting its image, I am not too sure,” he says. “All I know is that the game is bigger than all this and will go on.”