Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cowboys and Indians - Has the IPL Gone To Hell?

It may have only enjoyed a short life to date but the IPL hasn't lacked in colour and excitement ... and that's just off the field.

2014 will be its seventh season of drawing all the most flamboyant cricketers of this and even the past generation to India for a slog fest which lasts a few months, fills stadiums and sells almost everything to Indians and fascinated cricketers the world over. For the players, the chance to make an insane amount of money in a short space of time is too good to be true. Many just warm benches and do very little but still earn AUD$300 000 for the use of their fame/name in association by their franchise.

In fact, it is too good to be true. This is hit and giggle which has grown so powerful that Test fixtures are scheduled around it because when they have been scheduled during, players have opted out and gone to India for the rupee instead. Injured players have experienced miracle cures to turn out for a franchise.

In a cynical world, corruption leaves no stains. Its cleaned away in order to satisfy the money men and the media and the ruling bodies. However, those old rascals, the journalists, so often blamed for doing anything to print a good story, seem to find it impossible to ignore corruption. Perhaps that's the reason why the IPL has never had a good name or perhaps its because there's never been just a whiff of corruption about it but rather an overpowering stench of its putrid links to illegal betting and power hungry men with their hands in the till.

If Test cricket is the sumptuous meal of making love to a beautiful woman and then lying languidly in her arms with champagne or a good red on the bedside table, then the IPL is cricket's version of the quickie. A blur of movement, a flash of something exciting, everything done in a hurry and then off down the alley while you adjust your clothing. Twenty20 cricket was invented in England - presumably as a way of getting a game in before it rains again - but it has been marketed and polished into its full potential in India. So much so, that even against Australia last year, in a four Test series in which they flogged their visitors in every game, India could barely quarter fill their stadiums but in the IPL season which followed, there wasn't even standing room.

Lalit Modi
The architect of the IPL was its champion, Lalit Modi. In 2008, when it launched, Modi was in every media opportunity and as dominant as a US President in a re-election campaign. He had risen quickly through the ranks in Indian cricket. After five years on the board of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, he joined the Rajasthan Cricket Association in 2004 and became its President in the same year, giving him a seat on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The next year, he was involved in skulduggery and ousted former President Himachal Pradesh in the BCCI elections. Pradesh was the ICC President at the time. Having established a power base, Modi was made Vice President of the BCCI.

Modi was an entrepreneur in the Christopher Skase mode. He had negotiated deals with Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN in the 1990's for sole distribution and broadcast rights in India and he also locked in huge deals for the BBCI which included more than AUD$700m from the initial eight franchises in the IPL in 2008 and in 2009, AUD$431m from Nimbus Communications for sole broadcast right of Indian international games for four years.

The BCCI was rolling in money and with capital came power. Everyone else in the world danced to their tune and still does. Maybe that's changing.

Modi's operating skills of bluff and bravado came back to hurt him in 2010 when he was suspended as Chairman of the IPL for comments made on his Twitter feed which released information about the Kochi franchise. Then in 2012, Kiwi cricketer Chris Cairns successfully sued him for comments made on Twitter alleging that Cairns was involved in match fixing. In September of 2013, with evidence gathering against him, Modi was at first accused and then given a life ban from the BCCI and Indian cricket for irregularities in the IPL which involved him in garnishing an illegal financial gain. After a short spate of media comments and counter allegations, he fled India, saying he feared for his life.

Those who imagined one bad apple in the barrel were naive.

Gurunath Meiyappan
Four months earlier than Modi's life ban, the franchise based on his old cricket association, the Rajasthan Royals, was rocked by charges being laid against Sreekanth, a 27 Test bowler and lesser lights Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila. They were ultimately found guilty of match fixing by way of agreeing to concede a certain number of runs per over. In bookie terms, its called spot fixing and the easiest result to concoct. Bookmakers are banned in India but suddenly eleven were found and charged by Dehli Police.
BCCI thought they had contained the damage but the police and journalists had more in store. Bookmakers know how to make a deal and several of them threw up the name of Gurunath Meiyappan, a senior official from the Chennai Super Kings who was charged with match fixing by way of passing on team information to bookies. Shades of Warne and Junior Waugh. The Supreme Court of India, the highest legal body in the land, formed a committee under Justice Mukul Mudgal and that committee has been giving its finding to the Supreme Court in the last few weeks.

Surely all the guys in black hats have been rounded up?

IS Bindra, himself a former BCCI President (there seems no shortage of them), has come out strongly in support of Manohar's call for Shrinivasan to stand down, describing the situation as "a moment of shame for us to see the game gaining such disrepute across the globe for a single man's obsession with power."

The old corruption odour is filling the rooms of the BCCI yet again. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Money does an even better job.