Even as the cricketers were warming up before the IPL final in a South Mumbai stadium, a sting operation by Al Jazeera went on air, claiming that five international cricketers, three from England and two from Australia, were involved in spot-fixing in Tests in India. The good news is that this sting didn’t point to any involvement of Indian cricketers. The bad news is that the IPL itself is recovering from events two years ago, when two teams were suspended because of their enthusiastic owner’s dealings with the bookies, and a few cricketers were hauled up by the police for involvement. The alarming development is what the sting says about the health of the international cricket ecosystem, from the nature of fixers and bookies to involvement of international players.
The decision by Al Jazeera to broadcast the sting on the evening of the IPL final places the tournament and international cricket in the context of the clear and persistent menace of fixing. It also reveals that it isn’t just the mushrooming T20 leagues that are under threat, but Test cricket as well. It reveals our cynical acceptance that parts of the sting that are about shady deals in the UAE and pitch-fix shenanigans in Sri Lanka don’t raise much consternation.
The IPL in itself was a colourful affair: Most of the matches were competitive, nearly 50 of the 60 games swayed up and down — and more people than ever before have consumed it on the internet. An ageing team was ably managed by MS Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings, one of the teams out for two years, triumphed. Considering the IPL was under cloud just two years back, and pressure on international cricketers and its eco system seems to be constantly ratcheting up, the ICC and various boards need to really step up. In their recent elaborate global strategy plan, the ICC set itself an existential question about the game: “Why does cricket exist — what is its primary purpose in society?” Before they find an answer, they must first ensure cricket’s place in society doesn’t continue to be under a dark cloud of suspicion.