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Breaking rules is the rule here

Whether we like it or not, the phrase ‘this is not cricket’ even today means ‘you are not being honest and straight’. Well, maybe it doesn’t mean that any more, maybe it all changed once commercialism took strong roots in the sport. Pradeep Magazine writes.

columns Updated: May 20, 2012 03:17 IST

In the lexicon of sports, the terms ‘fair play’ and ‘cricket’ are synonymous and whatever is ‘not cricket’ is supposed to be unfair and falls in the realm of cheating. This was a worldview encouraged by the British aristocracy and was spread in countries they ruled. Cricket and the colour white - associated with being pure and pristine - were touted as symbols of the British imperialism’s innate belief in the idea of a world which was fair and just. We all know how just and fair the colonial masters were in their rule in our part of the world, though this piece is not about listing their misdeeds and proving why and how cricket was used as a metaphor for all that was good in the British elite society.

Whether we like it or not, the phrase ‘this is not cricket’ even today means ‘you are not being honest and straight’. Well, maybe it doesn’t mean that any more, maybe it all changed once commercialism took strong roots in the sport and television’s reach became a vehicle for exploiting cricket’s money-making potential. In a consumerist society, in which there is an abundance of goods for our indulgence, and which sustains the economies of the world, the heady mix of nationalism and sport became a powerful tool for profit-making.

To be in IPL, be devious
The terms ‘playing cricket’ and ‘be fair’ were interchangeable, but this has changed since a lip-smacking product which has corporates and the glamour industry drooling with joy, the IPL, was invented five years ago. In a land where cricket is said to be a religion and drives the cricketing economy of the world, the T20 format came as a blessing for those who believed the traditional form of the game is too boring, too long and perhaps too gentlemanly to exist in our world of instant gratification.

Every rule of the game, almost every rule of governance, has been flouted in these past five years to make the IPL a status symbol, India’s pride and a gift to the world, which should marvel at our capacity to create a ‘world-class league’ to rival the best any other sport has to offer. The league may well be world-class, but at what expense! First came the allegations of money laundering and benami deals that led to Lalit Modi, the fountainhead of middle-class pride, fleeing his country. He now only exists in the virtual world. This was followed by revelations that made the world realise that the league is so mixed up in conflict of interest situations that it was no longer funny. Yet nothing changed. When the man who heads the Board is also a franchise owner, can one expect anything else?

And the past week has brought into the open what was talked of first in whispers — that fixing, underhand dealings, sleaze and sex are part of this reality show. This combines perfectly with the arrogance of the owners who, instead of apologising for their abusive language or a sexist tweet to justify an alleged molestation, show to the world that everything goes in the name of the IPL.

Yesterday, ‘to play cricket’ meant doing the right thing. Today, ‘to play IPL’ in all probability would mean: ‘Be devious’. This is India’s gift to the sporting lexicon.

I get a contract, charge fee, what’s wrong in it?
Middle man | Players’ agent

What is the job of a property agent? He takes the pain of getting you a property at a good deal. You don’t mind paying him the commission he wants.

My job is similar. When I sign on a player, I do the donkey’s work to ensure he realises his worth. My contact with companies and IPL franchises is something that helps him. So, shouldn’t I take a cut?

In India, cricket is a passion. Anything players endorse sells like hotcakes. Companies spend millions on stars. Often they don’t put that extra bit to improve the quality of their product but when it comes to stars, they’ll readily pay huge sums.

While all players are contracted to the BCCI, there is no close watch on how deals with individual agents are struck. Deals with agent firms can be known, but often those with individual agents or team TRDOs (talent hunt officers) go unnoticed.

Who’d find out if a TRDO gets a player a contract worth Rs. 10 lakh and asks him to give back Rs. 5 lakh? For that matter, if I get him a contract to play in England and ask him for half the money.

I have met people who’ve sold off part of their village property to shift base to cities. Their target is IPL. You’ve seen for yourself how players who’ve done well even in one IPL have played for India. It is a short cut to success. Yes, when I promise a contract, I charge heavily. There was one player who paid over 40% of the contract money. I charged him so high because it would give him a foothold, introduce him to other players and franchise owners. Once settled, would he bother to remember me? I doubt.

Recently there was an article in this paper on how agents fleece players. Well, call it what you want, but I am justified in doing it.

What Kamran Khan, the player from UP, paid to his agent for a contract was nothing, 25% is the bare minimum and he didn’t mind that initially. It was only when the agent asked for a similar sum next season that Kamran objected. That was because he was a star by then. We don’t want that to happen to us.

There are educated parents and kids with not much money, who are wary.

There are many who themselves have decent contacts, or have played at a high level. I help facilitate their contracts, but in such cases I get less, around 10-15%. But it is easy to make money through guys who have no connect with this (IPL) world. I am justified in asking (big commissions) because I am introducing them to a world unknown to them.

The writer has secured lucrative contracts for some high-profile players in the IPL

A clear divide between A-listers & others
Eye witness | An IPL party-goer

The fun began after cricket. Once the match was lost and won in Bangalore, the action shifted to the hotel where the Royal Challengers camped through the IPL. Wine, women and song usually made for a good morning — the parties here started after midnight — with the fun and cheer sometimes continuing in the rooms till when the city would wake up for their normal, workaday lives. And I thought that Cinderella hour in Bangalore was 11.30pm!

But I get ahead of the story. Getting an invitation is an indication of where you stand on the Garden City's social networking index. Since these parties are usually organised by a liquor brand, it helped if you knew someone in the higher echelons.

At these parties, the A-listers and the plebeians weren't quite like whiskey and soda. There was a clear demarcation of who was allowed where unless the team owners or their company honchos decided otherwise. Even the booze wasn't the same.

Included in the first class were the cricketers, a top cop, corporates, models, stars and starlets of the local film industry. In the other group were the wannabes.

And in both groups there were enough number of people, mostly women, who aren't active on the Bangalore social circuit.

A fashion show was normal service and sometimes cricketers too would walk the ramp once the designer was done strutting his/her stuff. As the DJ piped up the music, the cheergirls too would hit the floor.

What made these parties stand out were the people who attended. You don't get the chance to share a drink with a top cricketer, liquor barons and his top management, models and actors. If nothing else, think of the BBM pins you could collect in a couple of hours and the photos you could post on your Facebook page.

Given that those who are the life and soul of the party are overwhelmingly male, it helps if you are a woman ready to mingle. Cricketers oblige them more when it comes to autographs and photographs. A star of India's World Cup win with a couple of his teammates once laid a bet to get a woman at one of these parties. But the cricketers have been almost to a rule, well-behaved. Most don't even drink. The way that star abused a waiter for taking his picture too stays in my mind.

The writer was a regular at RCB parties last season in Bangalore. Even this year, he has attended a couple

First Published: May 20, 2012 00:40 IST