'Sad to see our cricket icons compromised to be on gravy train'

'Sad to see our cricket icons compromised to be on gravy train'

First a confession: I am an IPL convert. I find the T 20 game inventive, exciting and almost addictive. I have even learnt to take in my stride Sidhu’s pun-a-minute motormouth, the inane banter of  the model anchors and  the gratuitous presence of  cheerleaders. And yet, as the IPL has drawn to a close, I am left with a bitter aftertaste. A hardened Mumbaikar has found it tough 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 its not the sight of  the Sreesanths and the Chandilas in jail which trouble 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 have got away. 

 Nor are BCCI officials responsible for my sense of  disillusionment. Officials in all sports, not just cricket, have a unique ability to stick fevicol to their backside. Mr N Srinivasan is only symbolic of  the rhinoceros like hide which is necessary to be a sports administrator in India. Sports unites 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 a cosy club of  a small elite which looks after each other. If greed drove 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 of  the super-rich IPL franchise owners and organisers has always been suspect. The man who started the IPL 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.  

Attitude of players

No, the ‘fixer’ players, the arrogant officials and the sleazy owners don’t trouble me. What is really responsible for my depression has been the attitude of  the 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 which is deeply concerning. 

 If  a Sunil Gavaskar, the original little master, who made a reputation of  standing up for player rights now chooses to be diplomatic over the volcanic eruption around him, then it 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 past cricket players were given hefty cheques as retirement benefits. It was a nice gesture by the board, but one which it appears was 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 as permanent angry rebels driven by personal agendas.

Financial muscle

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 defense I will say that the stakes were heavily weighted 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 only harmed Indian cricket: there is much the BCCI has done which it needs to be credited for. But where it has gone wrong like in the obvious conflict of  interest in IPL management, they must be made answerable.  

 For now, those questions have been posed by 24 x 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. Its time for the entire cricket fraternity to stand up and be counted again.

 Post-script: At the IPL prize distribution, 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 writer is editor-in-chief, IBN 18) 

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