Cricket is probably India’s biggest religion, and people’s faith in it is frighteningly blind. This may have changed in recent years, even if not enough.
Disgusting revelations of corruption in the sport, of players who sold their soul for money, have driven at least a few fans away from the game. Crucial dropped catches and no-balls, once cursed only as a sign of incompetence, have taken on a sinister hue in the eyes of onlookers.
It would be unfair to blame only the Indian Premier League (IPL) for this, but there’s no denying that the IPL has made the game commercial beyond anyone’s expectations. This is good in that it has made a positive difference to some impoverished players; but bad in that the incentive to cheat is immense.
The responsibility of conducting a fair tournament falls on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Unfortunately, the BCCI’s chief N Srinivasan has been embroiled in a controversy that goes to the heart of what is wrong with the IPL.
His son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan, an official of the Chennai Super Kings franchise, has been indicted by a probe panel for illegal betting. Another franchise, Rajasthan Royals, came under a cloud last year when three players were banned for spot-fixing. Now it turns out that one of its owners, Raj Kundra, was himself in touch with bookies.
And the chief operating officer of the League, Sundar Raman, was in touch several times with the contact of a bookie, according to the probe. The report, to be considered by the Supreme Court on Monday, refers to mysterious, unnamed individuals, possibly some of them players. They need to be outed if guilty; every cricketer with even a hint of a taint must be suitably punished, however big he is, and Indian cricket should start afresh.
The BCCI has built itself up into possibly the most powerful sporting body in the world. Many have cheered its ability to put the traditional cricketing establishment — read England and Australia — in their place after enduring years of patronising treatment, if not worse.
But the board must realise that its heft comes from the dollars it brings to the International Cricket Council’s coffers, and a large chunk of that money comes from Indian television viewers. Those fans will vote with their feet if wrongs are not righted, and a sport described as an Indian game invented by the English will be all the poorer for that.