Fans need to be angry and BCCI needs to reach out to them
It was a day of untold sadness and vast opportunity. Three players betrayed their fans and their team and dragged our game into much notoriety. They wounded cricket deeply. But by pushing Indian cricket into a corner,they raised the hope that the necessary reforms would materialise. Hopefully,what is lost will produce some gain.
First,the sadness. There is,within all of us,a romantic; we spend hours talking about,and with some of us,reporting on,heroic deeds on cricket grounds. This kindles the love of the game in another generation and forms the foundation of all sport. The sportsman is important but the fan is as vital. Every time a fixing story emerges,a little bit of the love diminishes.
Incidents like these will make fans question more and more; any mistake will now be scrutinised in search of a dark motive. An unorthodox shot,a gamble with the ball will not produce a thrill and a sigh but anger. It wont just be the fans,but also captains and teammates who will feel that way. If Rahul Dravid throws the ball to his bowler for another over,and after a good first over if the second is expensive,will he doubt his judgement or his bowlers integrity?
The fan has a right to be angry and let down. And there is a part of me that wishes the anger continues for a while. Indian cricket must hurt,it must not only grieve. Thirteen years ago,when the first match-fixing matter erupted,Indias cricket fans werent angry for long enough. Maybe the coming together of the most outstanding set of people I have met in sport healed the wounds and gave hope. For the next few years,Indian cricket,through this fine set of people,gave much joy,and occasional despair,but brought trust back. Tendulkar,Dravid,Kumble,Laxman,Ganguly,Srinath when they lost we thought again that it was only defeat and nothing else. And that was acceptable.
But fans returned too quickly and,in doing so,maybe we allowed things to be glossed over. Admittedly,we say so in retrospect,but how could you not be carried away by Leeds 2002,Adelaide 2003,the world cup campaign,Pakistan 2004? Those were the best days in all the years I have covered cricket,on the field and off it.
Now,the fan grieves again,but in a different climate. We do not yet know if those who will carry the flame forward are made the way those six,and others who played around them,were. T20 cricket has arrived,with its instant thrill and unpredictability,and there is a lot of it around. The IPL has revolutionised world cricket and polarised it just as much. It would be easy to lay the blame for what has happened entirely on the IPL and the culture of greed it supposedly propagates. That would be an angry,lazy verdict at a time that calls for calm,decisive thought. True,it is an indicator to the IPL,not just of what could happen but of what actually does. There were rumours and at least some of them have been validated. Those that run the sport can be anguished and angry,but they cannot be surprised. Knowing the pitfalls of your business is as important as knowing the opportunities.
But there is a wider issue here. Cricket,indeed all sport,is but a microcosm of society itself,a reflection of the times,and we live,in our part of the world,in particularly depressing times. There is a scandal every day,a scam seems to lurk around every corner,and the legislature is filled with people with criminal records. All this lends a veneer of acceptability to what might have been considered wrong in another time. With fewer people getting convicted,there is greater brazenness. One of these three was a very rich Indian cricketer,another had
a good job and a place in one of the best teams in the country. What happened with cricket,with these three young men,is therefore a reflection of what is happening everywhere. It calls for greater vigilance,but where do you see that in public life today?
What is even more dangerous is that this was uncovered by accident; just as the Cronje affair had been. So how much really is going on? If the police hadnt stumbled on to this,would it have incited more such falsehood? Was this the result of earlier frauds that went undetected? It would be naive to believe that this is an isolated case. Assumptions of goodness will have to be suspended.
Inevitably,we must ask what the solution is. There has been much talk of mentoring cricketers but every young cricketer,even at the under-17 level,knows he shouldnt be talking money to people of questionable repute. And you can spot them a mile away. These three went into it with their eyes open,not because they werent mentored. I wonder,therefore,if fear is a greater deterrent and if it can only come through stringent laws. At the moment,there is no law against match-fixing,but one is required urgently.
But the IPL has also brought much joy,and sustenance,to many families. A lot of cricketers have benefited from it,both financially and through the opportunity it has afforded them. It is important that it stays strong and that the good it has done doesnt get buried in the bad that we see now. That is why,for the BCCI itself,and by implication for those that run the IPL,this is the time to act swiftly and decisively. India prides itself on its financial muscle; it must now move very quickly towards legislative leadership. Many have spoken about transparency in financial matters and this must catalyse that process. There are people in India who run businesses with integrity and sagacity,and I would advocate an independent panel to recommend business practices and help set up processes. There is already a lot of organisational rigour to the running of the IPL and throwing it open to the best minds cant hurt. Many industry associations have independent ombudsmen too,people who are not answerable to the organisation but who reassure stakeholders by their presence and actions. Indian cricket needs trust and right now this can only come from people outside the cricket system.
The Indian cricket fan is hurt and the BCCI must reach out to him/ her. It is not possible to police the sport completely. But the fan often wants intent and the BCCI will have to move in that direction quickly. If they strengthen the game,something good can still come out of this. But for that,the anger must simmer longer. The player must fear the administration but the administration must fear the fan and be answerable.
This is needed to protect Indian cricket and make it stronger. It is needed to protect young Indian players and allow them to fulfil their dreams without being waylaid by immoral bandits. Out of the shattered lives of these three young men,newer and stronger players must emerge. Indian cricket must ensure that. Cruel as it may sound,it is too good an opportunity to miss.
The writer is a Mumbai-based cricket commentator