Clean up Indian cricket

Brace up!: The eventful last few days saw major changes effected to BCCI and IPL administration

Clean up Indian cricket
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the Indian Premier League match-fixing scandal, there is a school of thought that suggests the two franchisees – Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals – got off lightly.

Had they been suspended for a year, because of the alleged involvement of team owners or principals in illegal betting, there could have been few complaints. By not enforcing such a step, the court certainly took a lenient view.

Those players under contract with the two teams can thank their stars that the IPL is a one-division league. If it had not been, and if a suspension didn’t mean a massive loss of earnings for players entirely innocent of any misdemeanour, a relegation would likely have been the apt punishment.

 There is certainly a precedent as far as top-level sport elsewhere is concerned. Back in 1980, both AC Milan and Lazio, giants of Italian football, were relegated to Serie B because of their involvement in a match-fixing racket that came to be known as Totonero.

A generation later, in 2006, Juventus – the most successful side in Serie A – was relegated after Luciano Moggi, the team’s general manager, was implicated in a scandal that involved influencing referees. The pain of relegation was coupled with the stripping of two Serie A titles that the club had won in previous seasons. As with Milan in 1980, their exalted status within the Italian game didn’t give them any immunity from the strong arm of justice.

The cricket fraternity can see the court orders in two different ways. One option is to go with the flow, and continue with the head-in-sand approach that has brought things to such a sorry pass. N Srinivasan may have been pushed to the outer, but loyal lieutenants will continue to do his bidding and it will be business as usual.
 
 The other path is far harder. Starting with Sunil Gavaskar, who has been given the task of steering the IPL through its seventh season, this is a situation that needs to be viewed in the right way. Instead of seeing it as a crisis, those with Indian cricket’s best interests at heart need to spy an opportunity. There will be no better chance to clean the game up.
 
 There was an opportunity at the turn of the millennium, when the match-fixing scandal claimed some big names. But instead of taking the case to its logical conclusion and pressing for criminal charges against those who had cheated the game, the BCCI settled for a halfway-house solution. Many of those implicated in that scandal are now fully rehabilitated. You can see them on your television screens often enough.

That should not happen again. When it comes to players cheating the game and those who love it, there must be zero tolerance. It doesn’t matter how famous the names are. Back in the 1980s, Pete Rose – as much a certainty for baseball’s Hall of Fame as Sachin Tendulkar is for the cricket version – was banned for life after being found guilty of placing bets on his own team. Rose strenuously denied the charges, but like the great Shoeless Joe Jackson – banned after the Black Sox scandal of 1919 – a place in the pantheon of heroes continues to elude him.
 
Agents and hangers-on

It’s not really the players we need to keep tabs on though. The filth is usually found around them, in the form of the hangers-on and so-called agents who have played a big part in sullying the game’s reputation. Some of us have been talking for years about the need for stringent agent accreditation policies. The BCCI has contemplated it, but no concrete steps have been taken to make it a reality.

Soon after the spot-fixing scandal broke out last May, a news agency quoted a board official as saying: “There were reports that during India’s last tour of Australia, there were at least 5-6 agents who were staying in the team hotel and acted like players’ extended family. This is a disturbing trend that has been going on. If BCCI can accredit agents, at least we can force them to adhere to our guidelines which we cannot at the moment.”

 For the moment, they run riot. There are a few good men and women, but the majority are unscrupulous and shady operators out to make a quick buck. Their true colours reveal themselves in the predatory manner in which they approach even naïve Under-19 players. From predator to parasite is then a small step.

It has become almost fashionable to blame the IPL and the financial riches it brought in for all of Indian cricket’s ills. But we should not lose sight of the flip side. On Friday evening, I was at a promotional event for a book titled Cricket Changed my Life. Most of the players interviewed in it have never played for India.

They talk of what the IPL contracts did for their sense of self-worth and their families. These men, who will never enjoy the status of a Tendulkar or Dravid, speak candidly of belief and self-doubt, hope and despair, and of the world beyond the glamour and razzmatazz.

Those are the vulnerable players that fixers usually target. They are also the foot soldiers who make this great game what it is. For their sake, this opportunity to cleanse cricket should not be wasted.
 
Highlights of Justice Mudgal report on charges of betting and spot/match-fixing in IPL -6

Dhoni, Srinivasan and India Cements officials took the stand that Meiyappan had nothing to do with cricketing affairs of Chennai Super Kings and was a mere cricket enthusiast. 

From various persons the panel had interacted with, as to what was the role and position of Meiyappan in CSK, it came to light that Meiyappan would be with CSK during practice sessions, team meetings, IPL owners’ meet, at the auction table, in the owners dug out, representing himself to be the owner of CSK and held out to the world at large as the Team Principal/ Team Owner of CSK.

After interacting with Mumbai Police and going through the case property, it is apparent that Meiyappan was holding out to the world at large as the Team Owner/Principal of CSK. Mumbai Police had shown us business cards and letterheads wherein Meiyappan had claimed to be the Team Owner/ Principal.

Of the firm belief that Meiyappan had knowledge of or was in position to easily access, sensitive team information, team strategies, knowledge about match conditions, etc, which was outside the perview of an ordinary person following the game of cricket.

Of the considered opinion that Meiyappan formed an integral part of CSK and most persons viewed him as the face of the team. Though the de-jure ownership vests in India Cements, Committee finds that Meiyappan was, in fact, acting as a team official if not the de-facto owner of CSK.

Meiyappan was in regular touch with bookies and punters. There are several calls between Meiyappan and Vindoo Dara Singh, who was a punter himself. Singh was in very close proximity with several other bookies, as is evident from the telephonic transcripts produced by Mumbai Police.

Not in a position to render any conclusive finding as to whether Meiyappan was involved in match-fixing or spot-fixing. Committee has nothing on record to suggest involvement of any player acting on the behest of Meiyappan.

A general perception among many persons who deposed before the Committee, that matches involving CSK and other IPL teams were fixed and required through investigation. The said 
observations were in fact made by two former BCCI  presidents.”

(The writer is Editor-in-Chief,  Wisden India) 
 
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