Just as one was beginning to believe, for a change, the IPL this season would end without any major controversy, the spot fixing scandal has happened. Issues of the past such as party brawls, cheer leaders in little dresses and Shahrukh Khan losing his temper, seem piffling in comparison. The spirit of the game is in question.
Towel, hanky, warming up, no ball, fake injury, strategic time outs, who knows even the Gangnam dance may be signals to bookies, clients and cricketers to make even more money. Even as the sixes rain turning cricket fans delirious, a deeper sinister plot has been etched. A Bollywood star could be a bookie, a bookie a cricketer, a BCCI big wig a master mind.
Going by latest revelations, a T-20, IPL cricket match sounds like a dubious government contract in defense, telecom or coal mining, involving fixers, dealers, middle men, crony capitalists, all in the business of getting filthy rich by embezzling tax payers’ money or making a fool of cricket fans and sponsors, as the case may be. It is no surprise the Delhi police chanced upon Sreesanth, among others, on bookie pay roll, while phone tapping suspected underworld gangsters in Dubai as part of their anti-terror intelligence work.
Though attention has been on the temperamental Sreesanth and a few others subsisting on the fringes of cricketing fame and money, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with the betting trail only turning murkier by the hour.
At the time of writing this piece, the cops have picked up small time actor Vindoo Singh suspected to be a conduit between bigger Bollywood stars, more cricketers and bookies. Vindoo is a rich man. He is the son of late legendary wrestler and actor Dara Singh. Prospects of big money lured him to an illegal existence.
Pictures of Vindoo seated alongside Sakshi Dhoni during an IPL match do not look good reminding one of photos of another era when cricketers hobnobbed with the likes of Dawood Ibrahim at Sharjah. Vindoo has supposedly been in constant touch with the son-in-law of the BCCI chief N Srinivasan who is the owner of CSK that Dhoni captains. Vindoo has reportedly said that he is close to Virat Kohli and Harbhajan Singh. While it is true that anybody that Vindoo might have said hello is not a criminal, there is a definite stink in the air.
It is well known that big value wagers are placed on almost every cricket match of note, it is not clearly established the extent of pressure that cricketers face to tailor or tank matches or spot fix. Could franchisee owners, for example, pressure a Dhoni or a Dravid to keep bookies happy, given the big money involved?
Illegal cricket betting syndicates that play around with billions of dollars worldwide have managed to infiltrate big names in the past — Hansie Cronje, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif, Salim Malik to name some. There has been controversy about Ajay Jadeja, Mohammad Azharuddin, cricket icons. Till Cronje was cornered he was a South African hero.
Thankfully, the cricket crazy Indian fan still believes in the game signified by the large turnout at the CSK, Mumbai Indians match even as Delhi cops re-played to the media the infamous Sreesanth over to Adam Gilchrist. The fans believe genuine cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or MS Dhoni play the game hard and fair, unlike, say, in politics, wherein the integrity of even somebody like Manmohan Singh is under scrutiny.
However, given the disillusionment with Indian politics, the cricket fan cannot be taken for granted. There are reports that image conscious sponsors such as Pepsico may cancel their IPL contracts. Maybe, the Supreme Court will put a stop to IPL till matters are properly investigated. Solutions need to be found.
For one, it may be a good idea to make betting legitimate, as it is in many parts of the world, as Geoffrey Boycott has said. This will eliminate some seedy characters, allowing gambling under the aegis of established entities.
For example, I would not mind placing a bet, online or otherwise, on Sehwag lasting more than an over, winning a lot of money in the process. This should be fun, not a crime as it is now. Why should I need to click through a porn website coded to an illicit gambling interface?
The cricket administration needs to get its act right. While cops and media sting operations expose corrupt cricketers, it is the job of the BCCI and ICC to devise internal mechanisms to ensure that the game is played fairly. Or else the IPL league risks being hoicked out of the ground for good. That will be the last six.