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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014
No gentleman's game
Karan Thapar
June 09, 2013
First Published: 00:23 IST(9/6/2013)
Last Updated: 00:38 IST(9/6/2013)

If you're a lover of cricket don't read this article. It will infuriate you. It might even bring on a conniption. On the other hand, if you're brave and reckless, good luck!

First, however, an admission. I don't like cricket and I certainly don't understand it. Whenever I have to do interviews connected with the game I'm honestly not sure what I'm talking about.

Perhaps this is why the present crisis, which our media is obsessed with, forces to my mind a double-edged, cheeky and only partly flippant question: Does the problem lie with cricket or with us Indians?

Let's start with the arguments that point the finger at us. With the solitary exception of Asad Rauf, it seems all the other people officially said to be under investigation are our countrymen. The list includes players, owners, bookmakers and minor celebrities. Is that just a coincidence or telling?

Worse, this is not the first time spot-fixing has damaged Indian cricket. It happened last year too. In fact, 13 years ago the cricket captain of the time and three others were accused of fixing. So could there be something rotten at the heart of Indian cricket?

This time round we're talking of cricketers who are earning more than they ever thought they would and yet they've succumbed to corruption. What does that tell us about them?

The BCCI chairman, N Srinivasan, blames it on greed. But is that all it is? Don't we also need to question the wider values of the players who've converted the gentleman's game into a dirty cesspit?

Even if you and I don't have the answers, surely these are issues that major Indian players, both of the present and the past, need to address? Yet their silence is deafening.

Sunanda K Datta-Ray, with a gift for the mot juste, says Indians have added mirch and masala to the Englishman's game. Like our tryst with democracy, we've Indianised cricket.

Now let's flip to the other question: Is cricket to blame? Though tongue-in-cheek, the answers could be worth reflecting upon.

Given that you can never tell whether a no ball, a wide ball, a full toss or simply a bad delivery was deliberate or accidental isn't cricket unique in providing fertile ground for fixing? Could it be that spot-fixing is happening in any or every game, at any time, in any country, without anyone knowing except those who are involved? Is that what makes cricket so vulnerable?

Indeed, is cricket more vulnerable than other major international sports such as football, tennis or athletics? I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer is yes.

In fact, outside the village greens of Victorian England was cricket ever a gentleman's game or just a beguiling disguise for ruthless competition? What in the name of cricket was gentlemanly about Bodyline in the 1930s or West Indians bowling at a hundred miles an hour in the 1970s?

In our own time, the 'genius' of the domestic T20 league lies in the fact it entwined together the sliding values of Indian players, owners, bookmakers and celebrities with the hidden, but countless and effortless, opportunities cricket has to offer. It's created the ambience, promoted the values and brought together the people that facilitate fixing.

Is that why it's so riddled with conflicts of interest? A tweet wrongly attributed to Richie Benaud is probably right when it reads "Indians just don't get conflict of interest". But can you deny the domestic T20 league has let them get away with it?

Views expressed by the author are personal


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