Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cricket - Sport or just a game?

It has just started and it already feels like everything is over. The romance, the thrill, the joy, the despair, the chatter, the excitement and the innocence, or whatever was left of it.

Personally, this particular series of revelations about spot fixing and betting could not have come at a better time. Till last year, there was a chance that this kind of news could have really hurt. This season it is a mere confirmation of what was no longer just a hunch. Pollard dropping 3 in a row (practically pushing the second one off his hand after catching it), RP Singh bowling a couple of Mohammed Aamir balls in the same match, Hussey not being given run out by the third umpire, McCullum ducking under a catch.And even typing this out hurts as hell - Dravid tapping the ball away after catching it cleanly to allow a second run.(No. I am not a Dravid baiter. Quite the contrary. Proof? , ). If any of this had been an isolated incident in any other age, it could have set alarm bells ringing. That all this and more happened in a matter of weeks was just confirmation of the fear in the mind. Am I certain that all of these are incidents of match/spot fixing? No. Do I fear that all of these are incidents of match/spot fixing? Yes. To be in denial would be like saying that Titanic was a myth perpetrated to ensure better safety on ships. Let's face it. The IPL was just an extension of the board-room games that gigantic corporations play. It was just an additional playground on which politicians could score points against each other. For the top cricketers it was like an year end bonus.

But then to believe that the rot is limited to T20 is to hope that global warming is only about the summer getting hotter. The same cricketers play in all the formats. And it would be new twist to corporate ethics if they chose to cheat only in one format and not the other. The same bookies network would hound them even when they play for their national or state sides. Would they resist them in that scenario? When the stakes are higher? Place your bets.

Will this whole charade of allegations, counter-allegations, arrests, investigations and more arrests clean up cricket? No. The incidents in the lead up to the investigations merely indicate a shift of power - from one camp with shady antecedents to another. A sponsor and team owner, also the subject of a high profile investigation and has gifted huge tracts of land to cricketers in a state where the party in the ruling coalition is headed by a former BCCI/ICC head, pulls out in the week before the allegations. The investigations against the current chiefs son-in-law is being handled entirely by a police department different from the one which unearthed the spot fixing claims. The sponsor returns to say that he would be happy to continue as Indian team sponsor if the ex-BCCI head returns to power. The head spins with the possibilities of what could have been and what could be.

In the midst of all this we, the paying public, are just mere spectators to a game which has ceased being just a sport. So, the next time you pay for the ticket to a cricket match, you could also be getting the added service of being taken for a ride.

So, will this mean we will stop watching cricket? No. The lure of watching Sanju Samson's cover drive and Pujara's hook would be too great to resist. Why? Because, as Sundar Raman, the CEO of IPL, succinctly put it (in a different context), we are all :