Sting operations and cricket now appear to be almost synonmyuous, and at the end of such stings, more often than not journalists succeed in getting cricketers to spill the beans on their underhanded dealings. The cash-rich and glitzy Indian Premier League (IPL) now has fallen prey to an alleged spot-fixing scandal, and the rose-tinted glasses surrounding the league have now been firmly removed as the darkest and most talked secret of the league has come tumbling out of the closet.
The worst fears of former players as well as administrators of the game since the inception of the IPL in 2008, now appear not to have been unfounded following the suspension of five uncapped Indian cricketers from the league for alleged indiscretions, including spot-fixing.
The cricketers - Abhinav Bali, TP Sudhindra (Deccan Chargers), Mohnish Mishra (Pune Warriors), Amit Yadav (Kings XI Punjab) and Shalabh Srivastava (Kings XI Punjab) - were exposed following a sting operation by India TV.
The game of cricket, and for that matter, the IPL could have done without this controversy, as it comes shortly on the heels of Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir being jailed in Britain for their individual roles in a spot-fixing scandal relating to the Lord's Test against England in August 2010. That scandal broke after a sting operation by the now defunct News of the World got a fair bit of incriminating evidence from sports agent Mazhar Majeed. The three players were subsequently banned by the International Cricket Council; and while Asif and Amir have been released from prison, Butt continues to be jailed.
THE SPOT-FIXING EVIL
If spot-fixing is rampant in the IPL, can match-fixing be far behind? There have been a fair number of matches in the IPL across seasons that have certainly raised suspicions to that end. There may be no better time than now to bring certain IPL matches under the microscope and to keep a more closer watch on the remaining matches in IPL-5 as well as in future seasons of the league.
Coming back to the five uncapped Indian cricketers who were suspended from all forms of cricket by the IPL governing council on Tuesday, the ramifications, if the allegations
are proved to be true should be far-reaching and serve as a deterrent to any potential offenders. However, if the indiscretions, including negotiating terms for IPL team transfers and the actual salaries paid to some cricketers, are proved true, then the IPL governing council should take strict action against the franchises who have strayed from the league's guidelines.
However, Sudhindra who has admitted on camera that he spot-fixed a no-ball in a corporate tournament for Rs 20,000; and Srivastava, who allegedly demanded Rs 10 lakh for deliberately bowling a no-ball in an IPL match, need to be brought to justice sooner than later if the charges against them are proved to be true. Srivastava has defended himself and said, “I fail to understand whatever is being said about spot-fixing. The voice in that telephonic conversation is not mine. It is very easy to frame anyone with a doctored audio clip. If they [India TV] are showing all the video clips, why are they not showing that I have demanded Rs. 10 lakhs from them.”
Spot-fixing is an evil that needs to be stamped out from cricket at all levels at the earliest, because not only is it the easiest way in which to entrap gullible cricketers, but more often than not, such incidents are usually overlooked and only come to light during sting operations when journalists, who are following leads know how to get the responses they are after. Most importantly, spot-fixing is increasingly getting to be the new bane of cricket, and needs to be dealt with ruthlessly. And, the best way of doing so is by making examples of those cricketers who are foolish enough to think they can get away with these murky deals - be it in domestic cricket, the IPL or international cricket.
The issue of some cricketers in the IPL being paid more than the prescribed limit for that category of players is another issue - and that's where Pune Warriors' Mishra comes into the spotlight. Mishra, who is officially in the Rs 30 lakh category, claims he was paid Rs 1.45 crore by the franchise. Sahara, the owners of Pune Warriors, have denied making any off book payments to Mishra; and the cricketer has himself admitted he had casually engaged with the journalists “to develop his value”. However, it would be foolhardy to think that none of the franchises make extra payments to some of their players.
For example, Ravindra Jadeja was bought by Chennai Super Kings for $2 million in the 2012 IPL auction; but MS Dhoni, captain of the Indian team as well as that of CSK officially gets $1.8 million. It is probable that the franchise is paying their captain a lot more, but the excess amount doesn't have to be stated in the public domain. This is only one of the examples where the salary cap rule could be flouted. If that indeed is the case, then the purpose of fixing salary caps and salary slabs is being defeated by the very stakeholders whose responsibility it is to adhere to the rules of the IPL.
But, if the cricketers are justifiably punished for haggling for more lucrative contracts; the IPL authorities also need to take action against franchisees if it is proved one or all of them don't adhere to the actual price paid at the IPL auction to their players in terms of salaries.
The allegations of spot-fixing and other indiscretions by the five uncapped cricketers could just be the tip of the iceberg, and the onus is now firmly on Ravi Sawani - head of the ICC's new anti-corruption unit - to conduct a detailed and comprehensive inquiry - before submitting his report within a fortnight; and if proven guilty, hopefully the BCCI and IPL authorities will take tough action against these cricketers, while continuing to investigate players or matches that arouse the slightest hints of suspicion.
BCCI president N Srinivasan's reaction to the scandal has been on expected lines as he has said, "We will ensure that the integrity of the game is protected. BCCI believes in the integrity of the game. We will take the strictest possible action. We will have to have the tapes and the moment we see it, whoever is the player, we will take very very strict action." Strong words, but this statement is to be taken with a pinch of salt, considering the person making it.
This, however, is a golden opportunity to carry out a clean-up drive of all the malaise and underhand dealings that may exist in the IPL. It is entertainment, but at the end of the day, IPL is a cricket tournament, and any murky transactions in the league can and will tarnish the image of the game. This is also a chance for the administrators of the IPL and BCCI to prove that they have cricket's best interest at heart.
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