In 2008, Sir Paul Condon, former chief of ICC’s ACSU had told the international cricket body that the “IPL brings with it the biggest threat in terms of corruption in the game since the days of cricket in Sharjah.” Eerily, those words seem prophetic now, with the arrest of three cricketers from India being booked for spot-fixing in the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League. The chickens have come home to roost and how.
Anyone’s first reaction on hearing the ‘breaking’ news of S Sreesanth along with Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan of the Rajasthan Royals team being arrested by the Delhi Police, would have been - it was a scandal waiting to happen. One must admit that the charges are yet to be proven against them and the money trail too will need to be proven in a court of law. But the police have claimed that they have strong evidence against the trio. Nonetheless, the credibility of the tournament has surely taken a hit because of the latest saga. As they say, perception is as important in public life as reality.
The T20 league’s turnover last year was Rs 42,000 crore and this year it is expected to be Rs 45,000 crore. And the bets placed in IPL-6 is set to cross Rs 40,000 crores this year, which is a rise of 25 percent from IPL-5, whereas the inaugural edition of the IPL saw bets of Rs 6,000 crore. Bets are placed on everything from overall championship, individual match results, highest wicket taker, highest run getter, runs scored in a session and runs scored in an over – you name it and you have it. No wonder, with this kind of money riding on the tournament, the betting syndicates are looking to lure vulnerable cricketers all the time.
Ever since its inception in 2008, the cash-rich T20 tournament has been embroiled in one controversy or the other - it has been under the scanner for financial irregularities, it has been investigated by the Income Tax department for tax evasion by certain franchise, it has been accused of money-laundering for funds being routed through tax havens, it has been accused of conflict of interest (former IPL chairman Lalit Modi was said to have a stake in Rajasthan Royals and current BCCI president N Srinivasan is the owner of Chennai Super Kings), its players have been caught with drugs and women and so on and so forth.
Thus in the above scenario, it would not be misplaced to say that the BCCI and those who administer the game have a lot to answer to millions of fans for whom cricket is akin to religion in this country. They must also take their share of the blame for the mess that they are confronted with at this moment.
In what is reminiscent of the Sharjah days when underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his henchmen lured cricketers to fix matches and indulged in betting worth thousands of crores, the Karachi-Dubai-Mumbai link is said to be back, even though the name of D-Company being linked to IPL betting has not come as a surprise to many.
Remember, in the 80s and 90s, Dawood’s network of bookies and fixers operated out of Mumbai and then the UAE and was said to be run by the mafia don’s key financer, Sharad Shetty. Later after Shetty’s death, the business was handed over to Dawood’s brother Anees Ibrahim. This time around too, the names of Dawood’s men, Sunil Mirchandani (Sunil Dubai – based in Dubai) and Hiren (alias Jupiter) and Junior Kolkata (based in Mumbai) have cropped up.
Now that the dark underbelly of the IPL has been exposed, the pertinent question is what the Board of Control for Cricket in India is going to do about it. Is it going to continue with its ostrich like mentality, ban the three players, if they are found guilty and get on with the game? Or are they going to go for a complete overhaul and put the right system in place.
One is not saying that the concept of the T20 league in itself is bad and one is also not saying that the IPL should be scrapped, though one just hopes that the BCCI has not created a Frankenstein monster. But if the administrators are serious about restoring the credibility of the tournament, then the cleaning up job has to start and now. Especially, with talks doing the rounds that more IPL matches and not just this year’s maybe under the scanner and more arrests are likely, not just of bookies but of players too.
For a start, after the present season of IPL is over, why doesn’t the board suspend the tournament for some time, maybe a year or two, get the right checks and balances in place and then get back afresh. Also, though the BCCI officials keep repeating it, what exactly have they done to educate the players so that the lure of money and glamour does not blind them? Or for that matter what did they do to keep an eye on players who could be under the radar of bookies. A player like Ajit Chandila is definitely a soft target - he was not able to build his career as a first class cricketer and at 29 he knew that his chances of playing for India were slim. So, the IPL was the perfect platform for him to make some quick bucks and make hay while the sun shone.
Inspite of the fact that the ICC and the BCCI have an anti-corruption unit in place, they have neither been able to get to the root of the problem nor have they been able to catch those who may have indulged in wrongdoings. Former South African cricketer, late Hansie Cronje and former India players Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Sharma, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Jajeda were named in a Delhi Police probe; the spot-fixing by three Pakistani players was exposed by a British tabloid; a television channel’s sting in 2012 exposed the corruption in India’s domestic and T20 league; and now again the Delhi Police has uncovered the sordid tale of spot-fixing by players.
If it was bandied about that the IPL was prone to fixing then why didn’t the BCCI make use of ICC’s anti-corruption unit? The ICC too needs to wake up. The T20 league is just not limited to India. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Australia too have their own leagues and who knows the malaise of spot-fixing could be prevalent in these tournaments too.
Post Script: Rightly or wrongly, the fans, while hero-worshipping the players often forget that they are mortals too and are part of the very system where corruption is a way of life. We like to believe that sportsmen become what they become not because of the system but inspite of the system. Sadly, as the match-fixing scandal of Azharuddin and company showed and as the latest spot-fixing in IPL has revealed, players too are a by-product of the society that they have grown up in.
Having said that, one also has to acknowledge the fact that as long as there are players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Srinath, fans like us will not lose hope in the game that we so much love. These players are greats not only because of the runs that they scored and the wickets that they took. They are greats because of the way they have conducted themselves on and off the field. Hope the new crop of players take inspiration and guidance from them and play the game with integrity and unbridled passion.