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How the mighty fall

How the mighty fall

First a confession: I am a T20 convert. I find the T20 game inventive, exciting and almost addictive. I have even learnt to take Sidhu’s pun-a-minute motor mouth in my stride, the inane banter of the model anchors and the gratuitous presence of cheerleaders. And yet, as the domestic T20 league has drawn to a close, I am left with a bitter aftertaste. A hardened Mumbaikar has found it hard to truly rejoice in the success of the Mumbai Indians. Something, somewhere, has cracked in my heart and, yes, I am grieving.

It would be easy to blame the spot-fixing scandal for the heartbreak. Yes, cricketers who ‘fix’ their performance for money have betrayed us. But somehow it’s not the sight of the Sreesanths and the Chandilas in jail that troubles me. Spot-fixing is a global problem and there is little that the best anti-corruption unit can do to really put an end to it. There will always be individuals driven by greed: Sreesanth got caught, but I have little doubt there are other ‘rotten eggs’ who got away.

Nor are the BCCI officials responsible for my sense of disillusionment. Officials in all sports, not just cricket, have a unique ability to stick fevicol to their backsides. Mr N Srinivasan is only symbolic of the rhinoceros-like hide that is a necessity for any Indian sports administrator.

Sports unite our political class like little else. Is it any surprise that the same politicians who call for the prime minister’s resignation on a monthly basis are now citing ‘due process’ as a reason not to seek Srinivasan’s removal? The BCCI has always been the cosy club of a small elite that looks after each other. If greed has driven some cricketers to become ‘fixers’, then power is the glue that convinces officials to brazen it out.

Nor am I shocked to learn that one of the team owners has been arrested for betting. The moral fibre of some super-rich T20 league franchise owners and organisers has always been suspect. The man who started our domestic T20 league refuses to return to the country and face the law. A number of owners are facing charges from state investigating agencies and parliament committees.

The privilege of sitting in a team dugout doesn’t make one a genuine cricket enthusiast; money can buy that privilege and it should come as no surprise if some owners have misused access to players for self-aggrandisement. 

No, the ‘fixer’ players, the arrogant officials and the sleazy owners don’t trouble me. Responsible for my depression is the attitude of ex-Indian players, many of them legends of this game. Since the spot-fixing and betting scandal broke out, these illustrious heroes have barely spoken. Instead, there has been a peculiar conspiracy of silence at the highest level of the cricket-playing community and this is deeply concerning.

If a Sunil Gavaskar, the original little master, who once had a reputation for defending player’s rights, is now choosing to be diplomatic over the volcanic eruption around him, then there is reason to feel anguished. If a Ravi Shastri, who claims to call a spade a shovel, has reduced himself to a showpiece spokesperson for the BCCI, then there is little one can say.

Not a single of our contemporary greats — be it a Dhoni or a Sachin — has chosen to go public with their concerns (the lone exception has been Rahul Dravid who likened ‘spot-fixing’ to a personal ‘bereavement’).

Apparently, stringent and lucrative player and commentary contracts are seen to have ‘bought’ the silence of our icons. Last year, all cricket players, past and present were given hefty cheques as retirement benefits. It was a nice gesture by the board, but one that appears to have been designed to ensure servility. Today, our star cricketers are either players, mentors, brand ambassadors, commentators or selectors: all subject to the BCCI’s diktats, each compromised by the relentless desire to be on the gravy train. The few like Bishen Bedi and Kirti Azad who have spoken out are branded permanent angry rebels driven by personal agendas.

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Let it be said, I come from a cricketing family. It is not as if my father’s generation stood up to the board. Many of them, my father included, could not withstand board pressure when they played the game. But in their defence I will say that the stakes were heavily weighed against them. The players of the 50s and 60s did not have either the financial muscle or the self-belief to confront the board and demand greater accountability.

Today’s cricketers, who are crorepatis several times over, do not face the same compulsions. That they have chosen to play safe rather than question the board is the real disappointment. It is not as if the board has harmed just Indian cricket: there is much the BCCI has done that it needs to be credited for. But where it has gone wrong, like in the obvious conflict of interest in the league’s management, they must be made answerable. 

For now, those questions have been posed by a 24×7 media. But Mr Srinivasan is right: he will not resign only because of a frenzied media response. The only way to end the lies and denial is if the country’s top cricketers came together on one platform and demand a change in cricket’s governing structure. Indian cricket survived the match-fixing crisis because a few good men led by Ganguly, Kumble, Sachin, Dravid, Srinath and Laxman showed the way. It’s time for the entire cricket community to stand up and be counted again.

Post-script: At the T20 league’s prize distribution ceremony, we had the trimurti of Rajiv Shukla (Congress), Anurag Thakur (BJP) and N Srinivasan do the honours. Where were our cricket legends? Dressed in designer kurta-pajamas, they were the glorified impresarios for the night. Enough to leave any true cricket fan angry and depressed.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

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