The money trail

Sourav Ganguly...never minces his words.-PTI

As IPL-3 enters the final stages, the word ‘match-fixing', sadly, has done the rounds. It reflects the cynicism that has crept into high-strung fans who believe that team owners with giant egos will do anything to get their squads ahead on the totem pole. Hopefully, the fixing shadow will remain a myth concocted by feverish imagination, notes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The Indian Premier League, with its accent on soaring sixes and inflationary money scales, is now mired in a needless tangle with the tax men. The grilling of IPL's head honcho Lalit Modi by the income tax sleuths for eight hours in Mumbai and rumours of corruption and kickbacks have sullied a brand that still remains a lodestone for all cricketers.

The latest fracas evoked strong words in sections of the media and P. Sainath, who showed a stark mirror to all of us through his book ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought', wrote in The Hindu: “Once national heroes, cricket's top icons are now capital assets of the franchise owners. A once great game moves from heartfelt public ownership to a pocket-driven private one; from a national passion to a hyper-commercial nightmare.”

Harsha Bhogle, who has often championed the use of corporate governance in Indian cricket through his columns, said on television that it is ironical that a corporate sporting structure has seemingly lost a bit of its aura. In his column in Cricinfo, Bhogle wrote: “The two areas the IPL needs to be most careful about are the quality of its franchise owners, and therefore complete transparency, and the distance it can keep from match-fixing (or spot-fixing, which is more in the news lately).”

As the IPL's third edition enters the final stages, the word ‘match-fixing', sadly, has done the rounds. It reflects the cynicism that has crept into high-strung fans who believe that team owners with giant egos will do anything to get their squads ahead on the totem pole. Hopefully, the fixing shadow will remain a myth concocted by feverish imagination.

Making a comeback? Vinod Kambli with some of the aspiring cricketers during a talent hunt programme of the Haryana Cricket League. The former India player hopes to play in the IPL.-PTI

Cricket and Kerala

For non-resident Keralites, childhood memories are suffused with summer train journeys past coconut groves, paddy fields and open spaces resonating with the sound of football. Over the years cricket has gently nudged football though the beautiful game still rules large swathes of ‘God's own country'.

The cricket connection though continued through hope and fervent references to history. More than 100 years ago, Thalassery, a town in Malabar, is supposed to have hosted the first cricket match in India when bored British soldiers played against local fishermen. Meanwhile hope was tied up with finding far-fetched links between a few cricketers and their partial Kerala roots.

Yarns were spun around family trees as far flung as Anil Kumble's mother hailing from a town named Kumbla in North Kerala to Ajay Jadeja's Malayalee mother. The Keralites' desperation to have an Indian cricketer made a few to even claim that Kumble was one of their own and the bemused cricketer quickly clarified that he is a Kannadiga.

Things did change with the emergence of Tinu Yohannan and S. Sreesanth. The giant leap into cricket's embrace was also sighted when the Kochi IPL team cropped up. However, the latest controversy over team ownership and the slanging match between Lalit Modi and the Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, has soured the mood among the youth right from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargode. The unease between cricket and Kerala continues and it is something that could have been avoided.

The Ganguly quotes!

The make-shift press conference hall located in the basement of the Chinnaswamy Stadium surely triggers dynamic shifts in Sourav Ganguly's vocal chords.

On October 7, 2008, after a routine pre-match press conference, Ganguly paused for a millisecond, cleared his throat and said: “Just one last thing lads, before I leave, I just want to say that this is going to be my last series. I have decided to quit. I told my team-mates before coming here. These four Test matches (against Australia) are going to be my last and hopefully we will go on a winning note.”

The media personnel collectively held their breath while trying to comprehend the gravity of Ganguly's words and then there was the mad rush to break the story on television.

Cut to the present, the man, who never minces his words, was back in familiar terrain though he angrily dissected his team-mates still licking their wounds after a seven-wicket defeat to Royal Challengers Bangalore. The Kolkata Knight Riders skipper was seething with rage and summed up his team's lackadaisical effort thus: “We were just absolutely rubbish. In one line, we were rubbish. We have to play better cricket. If we play cricket like this we don't deserve to be in the semifinals. I don't mind losing but we were pathetic on the field. Let's be honest. I can talk, I can lift them up but they need to lift themselves. I can't go and field for them, I can't go and bowl for them!”

It was time for the visiting press corps from Kolkata to alert their sub-editors with the request, “stretch the deadline please. Dada has blasted his team!”

Frayed hopes and a cautionary tale

Amidst the hoopla of the IPL, there was a PTI story on April 13 that had a touch of poignancy. The story referred to Vinod Kambli's hopes of making a comeback. “I am going to be associated with the IPL soon and hope to walk onto the field with Sachin Tendulkar again,” Kambli said.

The 38-year-old ebbed away after a great start in international cricket and has also lost his footing in domestic cricket. But hope floats though his avowed interest in getting back to coloured clothing and thwacking the white ball seems like a mirage.

Many summers ago during a Ranji Trophy game between Karnataka and Mumbai in Bangalore, Kambli was involved in a tussle with seamer Dodda Ganesh. Words were exchanged and Ganesh kept peppering Kambli with short-pitched deliveries. Kambli pulled with elan but was soon consumed behind the wicket. That brief interlude was a snapshot of a career, which was all about flashy strokes and a flamboyant lifestyle before Kambli stumbled in the pitfalls of fame and never recovered.

The IPL is full of talented youngsters who eye an India cap, a fat bank balance, arm-candy and have the urge to multi-task with sports agents. It would serve them well to remember Kambli or Sadanand Viswanath, who lured the arc lights before losing their way as players.

Not at home at the Kotla... Gautam Gambhir slammed his home ground, saying: "I would prefer to play away matches. You have seen the pitch; it wasn't easy to bat on. T20 is a kind of game played with fours and sixes and this is a pitch where you need to graft."-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Problem of plenty

With a lull in the international calendar, all IPL teams now have their full contingent of foreign players. But this has led to coaches scratching their heads in dismay. “Maybe you have to blame the boss for picking so many world class players,” said a bemused Ray Jennings, the Royal Challengers Bangalore coach.

Royal Challengers was forced to bench the current numero uno among wicketkeepers — Mark Boucher — as space had to be created for the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Ross Taylor and Cameron White. Even Dale Steyn was rested as captain Anil Kumble and Jennings tried to fatten their batting with the explosive blades of Taylor and White while juggling with the only four-foreigners per playing XI clause. Even Pietersen could not escape the axe and Jacques Kallis wrote in his column, “I get a shock every time I see a player like Pietersen on the bench. It helps that I am an all-rounder as there are less likely chances of being rested!”

Mumbai Indians' Jean-Paul Duminy had his own take on the omission of Boucher from the Royal Challengers' ranks. “I don't think there is space for a specialist wicketkeeper in Twenty20. Boucher is a great player and he adds value, but I guess teams tend to strengthen their batting in T20 and Royal Challengers have opted for Robin Uthappa,” Duminy said.

Jennings countered: “There is space for specialist wicketkeepers but having said that we got to recognise that Uthappa's skills behind the wicket have been of a high calibre.”

Pitching it wrong

The brown bare centre-square at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi has kicked up enough dust ever since the abandonment of the ODI between India and Sri Lanka on December 27, 2009, due to the pitch's unplayable condition. The two-paced turf, which is under the ICC scanner, was subsequently cleared for the IPL by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

The swirl of controversies, however, continues to linger in the air. Even Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Anil Kumble, who enjoyed his ‘Perfect Ten' here in 1999, criticised the pitch after a recent IPL game. “It is not the ideal wicket for T20,” said Kumble. Worse was to follow when Delhi Daredevils' captain Gautam Gambhir slammed his home ground. “I would prefer to play away matches. You have seen the pitch; it wasn't easy to bat on. T20 is a kind of game played with fours and sixes and this is a pitch where you need to graft,” Gambhir said. With the ICC ban on hosting international matches at the venue for one year in place, the Delhi District Cricket Association, notorious for red-tape, needs to get its act in order as the 2011 World Cup is fast approaching.

For a city that is geared up to host the Commonwealth Games, it would be a shame if the Feroz Shah Kotla fails to be ready for the World Cup next year.

It is time for the DDCA officials to accept the sordid truth and find ways to nurture the pitch back to health.