Mammon worship

S. Sreesanth... sullying the Rajasthan Royals colours.-PTI

S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila of Rajasthan Royals succumbing to greed by under-performing in the IPL has plunged Indian cricket into turmoil and once again raised questions on the failure of the authorities to arrest the menace of fixing. Vijay Lokapally takes stock.

Making money was never so easy. The lure of lucre saw three cricketers making a mockery of the faith that their team and especially their captain had bestowed on them. S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila of Rajasthan Royals succumbing to greed by under-performing plunged Indian cricket into turmoil and once again raised questions on the failure of the authorities to arrest the menace of fixing.

The ghost of fixing returned to haunt and shake the very foundation of the game with disturbing visuals of cricketers being paraded in public with heads covered in black hoods. “It was the saddest day. It has really pained me to see cricketers being covered by a black hood while being produced at the residence of a duty Magistrate for a police remand. It left me in tears,” said former India all-rounder Kirti Azad. His sentiments must have found support among countless cricketers who have played the game at various levels.

Match-fixing is an age old phenomenon. The episode involving Hansie Cronje and some others should have served an eye-opener but the lessons were not learnt. “How could these players not take lessons from the past?” asked Kapil Dev. He was referring to the spot-fixing scandal that involved Pakistan cricketers Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif.

Here, the wounds of the 2000 match-fixing episode have once again been opened by corrupt cricketers looking to make quick money.

Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila...birds of the same feather.-V. GANESAN

The Indian Premier League, with the accompanying glitz and glamour, was not the best medium to sustain the game’s interest. “The IPL helps administrators keep the game going,” one Board official remarked. The mind-blowing revenue that the IPL generates keeps the Board’s coffers swelling, but, in the process, it also creates avenues for corruption, as seen in the latest scandal involving the Rajasthan Royals players.

The IPL, and cricket as a whole, came under scrutiny when a special cell of the Delhi police arrested Sreesanth, Chandila and Chavan for indulging in spot-fixing in IPL matches in collusion with bookies who reportedly had underworld connections. “Ban them for life,” was the refrain from most former players with Sourav Ganguly leading the demand. “What a waste of talent,” he said in reference to Sreesanth, who had also been rated high by Australian great Greg Chappell.

How and why Sreesanth got embroiled with bookies is hard to ascertain, but lack of mentoring surely had a role to play in this brilliant fast bowler drifting away from his team. Said to be a loner, Sreesanth paid for his maverick ways once success came to him in quick time. Praise from all quarters failed to galvanize Sreesanth, who fell into bad company and subsequently ended up in disgrace.

The format of the IPL is best suited for spot-fixing. This is a universally accepted fact. “But how can you hide bad performance?” asked Kapil Dev, who was “appalled” at these players bowing to greed.

By hobnobbing with bookies the players let their team, family and friends down. The players were charged under section 420 (cheating) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

The Board’s response was guarded. “We already have rules and regulations. The ICC ACSU (International Cricket Council Anti-Corruption Security Unit) is in charge of monitoring. At the start of the season, the players are educated about the dos and don’ts. The players have signed forms to say that they have understood everything. We will not hesitate to take the strongest possible action,” said Board President N. Srinivasan, even as he acknowledged that it was impossible for the cricket administrators to don the role of policemen.

N. Srinivasan, President, BCCI and Sanjay Jagdale ( left), Secretary, at the Chennai press conference, which spelt out the Board's stand on the spot-fixing issue.-BIJOY GHOSH

The IPL, for all its popularity, has been a centre of controversy since its inception. The nexus between some players and bookies may have been exposed now, but the fact remains that some results would still raise eyebrows. The gullible fans had little clue that they were being taken for a ride even as Chavan, Sreesanth and Chandila indulged in under-performance by way of conceding easy runs.

This arrangement of convenience with bookies escaped the attention of the cricket lovers until Delhi Police exposed the players. Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, an avid cricket fan, was the force behind the operation that commenced in March-end and was carried with utmost secrecy and competence. The police took their time, collected the data and broke the news that shook the cricket world.

The case was cracked by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Special Cell, Sanjeev Yadav, who worked diligently for more than a month and attended some of the IPL matches that were marked for surveillance. Yadav deserved praise for this wonderful service to cricket as he uncovered the ugly side of IPL.

The Board pats itself for creating a highly successful module that generates amazing revenue. But old timers are concerned at what they say is a “degeneration” of the game. There is nothing gentlemanly about T20 cricket, which promotes a one-dimensional slam-bang style. The character of the spectators at the IPL matches is in sharp contrast to the fans who watch Test cricket.

Former Test stumper Syed Kirmani called for a ban on IPL itself. Opinions among former players are divided.

Those connected with the league glorify it at every opportunity, but there are many who blame some of the game’s icons for lending their names to IPL. “It is a shame that cricketers have become slaves of the franchisees. They have no qualms of being auctioned. Money matters but what about their self-pride? For close to two months a year, these players are hijacked by the franchisees in the name of cricket promotion,” commented a former Test star.

The Board acted within its rights by announcing a series of measures to keep an eye on the bookies-players nexus. The most significant move was to initiate an accreditation process for the players’ agents. In the past, the Board had been apprehensive of agents snaring the players and this decision would enable the authorities to clamp down on some of the shady elements gaining access to the cricketers.

Even as the Board defended the IPL, there were concerns at the probe fizzling out in the absence of an adequate law to punish the players.

Banning after-match parties and removing the culture of cheer girls could be a minor step in the corruption cleansing process. Cricket’s image stands severely dented and it is for the Board, with the help of the police and law-makers, to eradicate the evil of fixing for good.

Lauding the agencies for their effort, Azad, as a Member of Parliament, observed, “We need to catch the bigger fish, including the source of the alleged Rs. 40000-crore betting racket. We need to take the help of the National Investigation Agency and Interpol to catch all these bookies and fixers. We also need to fix the State Associations who are not accountable, transparent or responsible to cricket or cricketers. It is now or never.”

True, it is now or never!