This year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has seen a string of excitingly close encounters, with most matches ending with a wallop or fizz on the last ball. If there’s one thing that stands out this year from the other editions, it is the quality of cricket. We’re seeing the best of cricketers come to the fore and harass their opposition and the best of bowlers numbing the run flow. We’ve seen numerous amazing, high scoring run chases and also seen teams being bowled out for paltry, double-figure scores. Each game seems to be a unique blend of its own, delivering the drama on the field rather than the obligatory off the field action. It is because of this that the current season is already being termed as ‘the best edition ever’.
The tournament did start off rather quietly, with the winning side usually crossing the line without any discomfort, but as the weeks rolled by, the games just got more and more intense. The race for a place in the playoffs could not have been any more interesting – six teams competing for three places, and each thanking the gods or cursing their luck for having or not having Hyderabad or Pune in their remaining fixtures.
As has been the feature with most IPLs, the controversy that usually lights up the proceedings was yet to arrive. But with cricket being such a master at its job, it didn’t need the attention to be dragged away from it. However, while the cricket has been more enthralling this year, the all-important TRPs have been at a low when compared to the preceding editions. As is the protocol of Indian television, if you aren’t grabbing the eyeballs, pull them out, squeeze them and throw them to the ground.
Match-fixing probably exists somewhere in the dingy underbelly of cricket. It probably exists in every sport. In a profession which has a gross difference in pay between co-workers, the lure of easy and truckloads of money is enticing to man. It isn’t an incorrect notion or wrong thing to feel; humans were manufactured like that. Some do it out of greed, some out of compulsion. Each person goes into the world with the intention of being the best at what they do and to earn more than the next person. Sure, when a person doesn’t work the required amount but continues to complain and then does something wrong to get it fulfilled, it would qualify as a questionable offence. But when there is no scope for any improvement, it becomes a way of life.
Indian cricketers are the most handsomely paid in the sport. Apart from what they earn via match fees, they are hounded with ad offers and the money comes in quick and fast. Once you’re picked into the Indian team, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll soon be waltzing with the Ambanis and Mallyas of the world. I’m not here to defend the actions of the five players who have been suspended after their revelations about spot-fixing during the IPL, nor do I endorse what they did, or for that matter, what Mohammed Aamir, Mohammed Asif and Salman Butt did. I’m here to try and figure out, ‘why’.
The Indian Ranji trophy players aren’t paid badly. The state of domestic cricket in our country is nowhere near as bad as the state of any other internationally played sport in our country. Our government probably discovered a box of gold way back in 1983 and have constantly been investing large sums of money and time into the game ever since.
Appreciation is the one thing missing in the lives of state players. Take the example of Subramaniam Badrinath. The man has probably worked the most in the past decade. Over and over again, he comes up with the goods and makes heads turn. But as luck would have it, he will only be remembered as a prolific Ranji trophy player and not an international one. Living in the time of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman is a sore dampener for middle order batsmen in our country.
The introduction of the IPL was, on the face of it, a great addition to the cricket calendar of these domestic players. A month of T20 cricket and an income equivalent or more than what they earn for the rest of the year. The IPL was paradise. However, along with it came some compromises.
Until the last year, attending the after-match party was a compulsion and any player who would refuse to attend would be punished. Controversial incidents on and off the field constantly were an irritant to the players’ lives. Security threats made players believe they were fighting for the army and not Royal Challengers Bangalore. Acting in advertisements was not up to the players anymore but up to their owners which leads me to the next point where players became mere puppets in this large carnival. IPL was not a cricket tournament as it promised us. It was the new generation ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi…’
The introduction of money into the game has undoubtedly led to the lowering of moral standards in players. Let me rephrase that. The introduction of money distributed unevenly into the game has led to the lowering of moral standards in players. The BCCI has prostituted cricket to corporate honchos who care only of revenue and bimbos in bikinis and nothing of the game. So does that mean we pay each cricketer equally? No, absolutely not, but we pay them on merit. If a domestic player performs miles better than his internationally reputed team-mate but is paid 1/8th the amount he is for the rest of his career, it hurts somewhere.
Let’s take the example of recently crowned Premier League champions Manchester City. After 44 years, City stood handsomely at the top of the podium after a more then heart-stopping finish on the final day of the season. What brought about this change? Why, money of course.
After their takeover from the Arab Sheiks, Manchester City has acquired un-bouncing cheques, a never-ending credit card and a morale which reaches the blue skies. With the help of Roberto Mancini, they have purchased talented players, sometimes for well over the deserved amount because they can. Before, whenever a player joined City, we’d take it as a foregone conclusion that he was offered a gold car and more. But now, we may have to change our ways.
Money brought Manchester City all the success they wanted. But along with this kind of success, come some serious downfalls. And City is the mother of all examples of this.
They have Mario Balotelli, who bursts crackers in his bathroom and has that haircut, Carlos Tevez, who refuses to listen to his superiors and waves incongruous banners, Samir Nasri, contradicting himself on a regular basis, Patrick Viera, making statements before staring into the mirror and the list goes on and on. City have bred a club filled with clowns, but how does it matter when you’re winning, right?
It’s the same with the IPL. Every year, the IPL is successful and can probably spread its stash of money earned across the continent but along with it comes some unnecessary elements which only bring the IPL to the fore once again and not in a good way.
The spot-fixing revelation was coming; everybody was certain about that. Every match has been suspicious ever since the start of the tournament. And as Indians, we suspect everything. And it works as a great thing. Now, whether this is just the tip of the iceberg (which I’m certain is a lot less) or all of it, nobody can ascertain. Whether the BCCI follows up interest on it or not, nobody knows. Whether this was all staged just to garner more attention, nobody will ever know. The point remains, cricket isn’t what it used to be anymore. The ‘sport’ in it is fading away. I’m worried that soon, I’ll have to audition for the role of wicket-keeper for the Mumbai Indians in front of a light, camera and ‘action’ setting.